Last year the Oregon Energy Trust assisted agricultural customers with more than 430 irrigation and greenhouse projects, distributing about $1.3 million in incentives.
Energy Trust offers rebates to farmers who acquire more energy-efficient equipment and lighting. Purchases don’t usually require pre-approval and may be made directly from vendors. Energy Trust also helps customers find qualified and knowledgeable vendors and contractors.
Similar energy-efficiency programs are available in other Western states through electric or natural gas utilities or state and federal government programs. Farmers and ranchers should check with their local soil and water conservation district, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service or their local utilities.
Energy Trust of Oregon works with Portland General Electric, Pacific Power, Cascade Natural Gas and Northwest Natural Gas and, as of Jan. 1, will serve Oregon Avista gas customers.
“The two main areas where we offer incentives are irrigation systems and greenhouses,” Energy Trust of Oregon Agriculture Program Manager Doug Heredos said. “Irrigation upgrades are primarily electrical; in greenhouses you’re saving natural gas.”
Irrigation incentives include the repair or replacement of components including worn sprinklers, nozzles, gaskets, mainlines and handlines. Reimbursements include $4 a sprinkler, $2.75 per gasket and $10 for a section of handline.
Certain projects such as converting from overhead to drip irrigation require pre-approval but may result in energy savings of up to 40 percent. Energy Trust can put farmers in touch with vendors that can provide estimates for such larger undertakings.
Among other arguments for drip irrigation is that its increasing popularity is bringing prices down and overall labor costs along with them.
“There is definitely less labor with many of these improvements; you don’t have to go out to the field to change the valve; many of the controls may be done by phone,” said Susan Jowaiszas, commercial-industrial marketing manager with Oregon Trust. “It really adds up.”
Heredos said a lot of farmers don’t take advantage of these resources.
“They don’t know how easy it is to apply or they think there are strings attached,” he said. “Irrigation is one of the top energy expenses for those farmers; it’s important to reduce that cost.”
The other main thrust of Energy Trust’s work is in greenhouse improvements that save natural gas.
“We offer incentives for replacing heaters with more efficient models or using a boiler under the plants and for installing controllers and replacing the material the greenhouse is made of,” Jowaiszas said. “In addition to saving energy costs, good controls and efficient running tend to make the grower a little less anxious during climate extremes.”
Energy Trust can also provide cash incentives for a range of renewable energy systems, including solar and hydropower. Many farms and wineries have installed solar panels in recent years.
“We deliver programs for every type of rate payer, whether residential, industrial, agricultural; whether you’re a commercial business or multi-family dwelling,” Jowaiszas said. “We encourage people to invest in energy efficiency and we support that by offering cash incentives and technical support.
“Investing in energy efficiency lowers everyone’s bill and reduces the need to build new energy resources,” Jowaiszas said. “It is less expensive to save a kilowatt-hour or a therm than it is to deliver it.”