Organic Valley runs 10% of farms on solar power and advocates for GREEN Act

By Beth Newhart

- Last updated on GMT

Solar tax credits are critical for individual farm systems, because many don’t have the upfront capital to invest in equipment. Pic: Organic Valley
Solar tax credits are critical for individual farm systems, because many don’t have the upfront capital to invest in equipment. Pic: Organic Valley

Related tags Dairy Farm Dairy farmers Dairy farming Renewable energy solar power Sustainability

Renewable energy use in agriculture is the best way to a sustainable future for most farmers, according to Organic Valley, and solar power popularity can grow further thanks to proposed energy tax credits in the US.

Farmers, processors and environmental activists have been advocating for the extension of tax credits for renewable technologies in Washington this year. Sponsored and introduced by Democrats, the GREEN Act (Growing Renewable Energy and Efficiency Now) incentivizes and addresses renewable energy production and storage, energy efficiency, and electric vehicles.

At the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) Solar Goes Corporate event in DC earlier this month, industry leaders gathered to collaborate, visit with legislators and advocate for the GREEN Act’s passage through Congress.

Stocking a farmer's tool belt

Stanley Minnick, energy services and technology manager at Organic Valley, spoke at SEIA’s event on behalf of Organic Valley and how solar tax credits would benefit the co-op’s small member farms.

“Without action, the tax credit is slated to ramp down in 2020,” ​Organic Valley said. “This impacts projects in areas like the Midwest where the utility rates being offset are often lower.”

For dairy farmers, the primary way that they would benefit from solar tax credits is if they install solar equipment on their own farm and then see a smaller utility bill as a result. Minnick told DairyReporter that the GREEN Act also incentivizes outside investors and developers to lease land for solar from farmers.

The tax credit provides the interest from investors that can result in stable lease payments for the farms for years. Cost is a primary obstacle for small family farms when it comes to the decision to switch to renewable energy.

“Farmers need every tool in their tool belt that they can possibly come across these days, and the tax credit has been part of unlocking millions of dollars in investment on farms, not just at Organic Valley, but all across the country,” ​Minnick said.

“I just think that when we have an opportunity to help those farmers, we should definitely do everything we can to make that happen.”

Building on existing sustainability work

On November 21, Mike Thompson (D-CA) released a discussion draft of the GREEN Act to Congress in an effort to use the tax code “to extend and expand renewable energy use and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

“Estimates say that climate change will cost Americans more than $500bn each year by the end of this century. We cannot afford to wait any longer to address this existential threat,” ​Thompson said.

“This bill will build on existing tax incentives that promote renewable energy and increase efficiency and create new models for technology and activity to reduce our carbon footprint.”

Beyond agriculture, the GREEN Act could increase energy efficiency and green energy use in residential and commercial buildings, support the use of zero-emission transportation and supporting infrastructure and invest in a green workforce through energy credits for manufacturers.

But Minnick stressed that the tax credit is critical for individual farm systems, because many Organic Valley members don’t have the upfront capital to invest in solar power systems. Many also can’t reliably accept the tax benefits the way other larger companies might.

Out of 2,000 Organic Valley farms, about 250 of them use solar power. Minnick said the co-op hopes to triple that in the next three years, and these tax credits would play a big part in advancing those numbers. Compared to Organic Valley’s 10%, the corporate, commercial and industrial sector is currently less than 1% powered by solar.

“Our farmers have been investing in solar for a long time, and we want to accelerate that and build on the work that folks have been doing for a long time,”​ he said.

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