Ellen Anderson, who worked for two decades in state government on renewable energy and is now with the University of Minnesota Energy Transition Lab, said the progress on renewables has been breathtaking.
MANKATO -- "When we first started talking about this, we were told that renewables would never be more than 1 to 3 percent of total (energy generation)," she said.
Today 23 percent of total production is from renewables and the state's goal is for more than 25 percent in the coming years.
Anderson along with Mike Bull, of the Center for Energy and Environment, and Hal Kimball, solar installation specialist with Blue Horizon Energy of Plymouth, spoke to farmers Wednesday at the MN Ag Expo in Mankato.
"Wind and solar are now pricing much lower than traditional generation," Bull said. "There's a massive transition to renewables in Minnesota."
All three said that right now solar is where it's at for farmers. "Solar is the most practical and viable option out there now," Kimball said.
He said that in recent years many farmers have contracted to rent their land for other companies to install large solar gardens. That rent brings about $1,000 per acre each year. But he said a farmer building his on solar panel array with batteries can see $7,000 to $10,000 in energy production each year, using only about one-fifth acre of land.
The panel said a variety of financing options are available to build a solar array and still good tax incentives, although they will begin expiring in coming years.
There is a 30 percent federal income tax credit for solar investments. And under the recently passed federal tax bill, farmers can depreciate 100 percent of the project the first year.
There are also U.S. Department of Agriculture renewable energy grants available, although competition for them is stiff.
And the group said some farmer co-ops offer assistance programs, and utility companies also have strong solar-purchasing programs.
Anderson said a law called "net metering" requires utilities to buy at retail price any excess power generated by a solar energy system owner.
Anderson said that means that even if a farmer's energy needs drop significantly in the future, they can be assured they can still sell their solar power to keep the cash flow positive during the life of the system.
Beyond individual benefits for farmers, the panel said the rapid growth of solar and other renewables is a big boost to rural economies.
Bull said two of the fastest-growing jobs in the country are wind turbine techs and solar installers. Those jobs, he said, start at $40,000 to $50,000.
Anderson said studies by the U of M and others show that thousands of new jobs will be created in rural areas in wind, solar, biogas and other renewable businesses. And she said locally produced energy brings greater economic benefits to the local economy than from power brought in from a long distance away.
This week, Volvo is adding itself to the list of many truck manufacturers working on electric trucks.
ELECTREK -- The Swedish group says that it will bring the electric trucks to the road as soon as this year and start selling them next year.
Claes Nilsson, President Volvo Trucks, commented on the announcement:
“Electromobility is fully in line with Volvo Truck’s long term commitment for sustainable urban development and zero emissions. We belive in full electrification for urban distribution as a first step. However we are working with electrification for other transport applications. This is only the beginning.”
They will be starting with “medium-duty trucks in Europe.”
Jonas Odermalm, Head of product strategy medium-duty vehicles at Volvo Trucks, commented:
“Our technology and knowhow within electromobility are based on proven commercial solutions already in use on Volvo’s electric buses, and solutions that were introduced in Volvo’s hybrid trucks as far back as 2010. The vehicles themselves are only one part of what is needed for large-scale electrification to succeed.”
The company says that “a few selected reference customers” will get the new trucks by the end of the year before the electric trucks go for sales next year.
“We are working closely with customers, cities, suppliers of charging infrastructure and other key stakeholders to create the necessary framework for electrical trucks.”
The focus on electric trucks has so far been on semis, like Tesla Semi, Daimler’s heavy-duty all-electric truck concept, and Cummins’ electric truck effort, but there are also some medium-size truck programs to compete with Volvo.
For example, Daimler already started delivering all-electric trucks in Europe. VW is also investing $1.7 billion to bring electric trucks to market in Europe.
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