Agriculture is a vital industry in the United States, representing approximately $180 billion in the U.S. economy. Rising energy costs threaten the economic viability of farms and have rippling effects throughout the entire economy due to increased food costs and decreased availability. Effectively managing energy use on farms through cost effective energy efficiency and operational practices has become a major focus of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, the successful implementation of energy efficiency projects within the agricultural sector requires engineers and consultants with in-depth knowledge of the various agricultural enterprises and an appreciation of how individual farms are operated on a day-to-day basis. Shortages of qualified energy professionals within this sector present challenges to the successful identification and implementation of agricultural energy efficiency projects.
The USDA and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) have recently implemented a new initiative to connect agricultural producers with energy professionals and provide financial incentives in an effort to promote agriculture energy audits and encourage implementation of cost effective energy improvement projects ranging from low cost operational measures through energy efficiency retrofits. An Agriculture Energy Management Plan, or AgEMP for short, is a great way for agriculture producers to find out the best ways to save energy (and money) on their farm. An AgEMP is a detailed analysis of an agriculture facilities’ current energy consumption which details how much energy each type of farm equipment is using. An AgEMP is a valuable tool for short and long term energy planning. It is not uncommon to find projects with zero to two year paybacks at agriculture facilities.
AgEMPs can be developed for all types of agriculture enterprises including dairies, greenhouses, poultry farms, hog farms, grain drying operations, maple syrup producers and many others. An important part of the AgEMP process is the assessment of each individual producer’s areas of interests and concerns, and integrating that feedback into a cohesive energy strategy for the future. An AgEMP prioritizes energy efficiency opportunities and helps producers decide what energy efficiency recommendations make the most sense for their operation. In the end, producers are able to improve their bottom line through effective energy management.
With an approved AgEMP on file with the local NRCS, producers may be eligible to receive payments for installation of the recommendations in the AgEMP, helping to make the payback even shorter for the recommended energy efficiency projects. The NRCS will pay up to 75% of the project cost towards the recommendations through the EQIP program. A qualified AgEMP report is kept on file for 5 years with the NRCS. This means that a producer does not have to rush and install all the efficiency recommendations at once but can do it over time as the projects make sense for the farm. To find out about specific payments, producers should contact their local USDA Farm Service Center.
AgEMPs not only benefit the farm owner by helping them decrease the amount of energy they use and reducing energy related costs, but can also benefit a utility, electric cooperative, or municipality that produces and sells energy. The projects implemented as a result of an AgEMP can help to reduce peak demand and reduce overall load requirements which can translate into not having to build, or delay the addition of, a new or larger power plant. Recommendations made through an AgEMP will often qualify for supplemental rebates and incentives from local utility providers. Many electric and natural gas service suppliers have energy efficiency programs which offer incentives or rebates to customers for installing energy efficient equipment on their farm. These incentives help to decrease the payback of an energy efficiency project and increase the likelihood that a producer will move forward with installation of the energy efficiency measure. To find out if your electric service provider offers financial assistance with installing energy efficiency projects contact your energy supplier or visit www.dsireusa.org.
Opportunities for energy savings in agriculture facilities can be found in many areas including high efficiency ventilation systems, variable speed drives, high efficiency compressors, heat recovery systems, pre-coolers, high efficiency lighting, and high efficiency heating systems, to name a few. Animal housing ventilation technologies have made great strides in recent years by improving the air flow per kW of power demand and incorporating staged control systems which automatically tailor the number of fans that run at one time. For example, 60 high-efficiency fans can provide the same air flow as 65 standard efficiency fans while saving 24 kW of power. Variable speed drives installed on dairy farm vacuum pumps have been shown to save 50% of energy over single speed pumps and 10% of overall dairy farm energy. Farms may also improve productivity and safety when they replace out-of-date lighting technologies with new, energy efficient lighting which can use up to half the wattage with improved light output.
Each state’s NRCS offers payments for AgEMPs and for energy improvements, however the payments differ by state. Producers who may be interested in taking advantage of this opportunity should sign up through their local NRCS office. There are some things that producers should consider during the sign up process, such as, it can be advantageous for producers to pay out-of-pocket for the audit in order to sign up directly for NRCS payments towards energy efficient equipment, and couple those payments with utility incentives. It is important for producers to properly complete the application process and ensure that they have AgEMP report on file with their local NRCS office so that they can take advantage of the payments offered by the NRCS for the implementation of the recommended energy efficiency measures.
GDS has completed over 3,000 agricultural energy audits, has a thorough understanding of agriculture enterprises and works closely with local farm service agencies and utility providers to help connect producers with any potential grants, rebates, or incentives. GDS helps agricultural producers identify and implement the most cost effective opportunities to save energy and money while leveraging external funding sources.
Contact GDS for additional information about GDS agriculture energy and AgEMP services.
For more information or to comment on this article, contact:
Bethany Reinholtz, Associate Engineer/Analyst | CONTACT
GDS Associates, Inc. – Madison, WI
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