Randy Weis and his mother Darlene in front of the solar array on their farm.
Jeff Rice, Sterling Journal-Advocate
Randy Weis and his mother Darlene in front of the solar array on their farm.

Randy Weis’ potatoes weren’t just nourished by sunshine this past summer, they were watered with sun, too.

Weis planted 130 acres of potatoes on ground owned by his mother, Darlene, southeast of Holyoke this season and used a 15-kilowatt solar array to run the pump and sprinkler motors on his center-pivot system.

He won’t know until January how much he saved in energy costs, but estimates the system will pay for itself in about 15 years and then pay him back for another 15 years.

The installation is part of Colorado State University’s Solar and Wind Assessments for Pivots, or SWAP, program from the university’s Rural Energy Center. Weis was the first to actually install solar panels under Rural Energy Center programs, which help farmers identify ways to save money on energy costs, some as simple as installing LED lighting.

REC director Cary Weiss was back on Weis’ farm last week with CSU videographer Mark Rose and Golden Solar owner Don Parker to record comments about the first year of operation. The video will be posted online as part of CSU Extension’s outreach program.

Golden Solar installed 56 of the panels in a corner of Weis’ field late last year at a cost of about $50,000. That included concrete pylons, racks, solar panels and wiring. Even with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program kicking in 25 percent, it’s still a cost of $38,000 to Weis.

Still, Weis said the new pivot sprinkler the solar system powers cost $80,000 in 2015 and, before the solar went in, he spent $12,000 a year for electricity to run it. If he saves the $2,500 a year he thinks he’ll save, the system will pay for itself in 15 years and give him another 15 years of service with very little maintenance.

Based on preliminary figures from the first year’s bills, Weis estimates he powered his Quonset hut for free “and I think the rebates on the center pivot are going to come out pretty good.”

Darlene Weis, who owns the land where the solar-irrigated potatoes were grown, confessed she knows little about the workings of the solar generating system, but did pronounce the project a success nonetheless.

“The potatoes were delicious!” she said.

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