Solar-powered pasture wells
August 26, 2014
A smart solution for remote areas
Under the leadership of Tom Jesperson, Verendry Electric Cooperative has installed more than 300 solar-powered pasture wells in its service area. When the co-op had about 225 systems, Jesperson added up the miles of line that Verendrye didn’t have to build or maintain. He figures the co-op saved 300 miles of line … and more than $1 million. Those numbers continue to grow.
This spring, high water levels toppled a single-phase distribution line that ran through a slough to a pasture well northeast of Driscoll. A Capital Electric Cooperative line crew found the downed poles floating in the slough during line patrol, and contacted the co-op’s member services department. They knew Capital Electric members Curtis and Brenda Eichele would need the power restored to provide a mid-summer to late-fall clean water supply to their cow/calf pairs.
In the spring and early summer, the cattle can drink from the slough as long as it stays fresh. As the temperatures rise and the water warms, algae grows and contaminates the water. The slough — which used to be land Curtis farmed years ago — had grown in width and was now at least 11 feet deep. Doug Mork, member services director at Capital Electric, says the line could not be rebuilt through the slough.
“So much water and winter ice make power poles unstable,” he says.
The co-op considered constructing a new line from another direction to get service to the well. Construction estimates were $40,000 to serve a seasonal well that would generate less than $300 per year in total revenue. It would have been a significant expense for the co-op’s membership that would never have paid for itself.
Mork suggested that Capital Electric install a photovoltaic (solar panel) pumping system to power the well. Verendrye Electric Cooperative, a co-op that serves the surrounding areas of Minot and Velva, has been installing these solar systems for several years. Tom Jesperson, energy management advisor at Verendrye Electric, says the co-op delved into solar because their membership also has pasture wells in remote areas that do not create revenue for the co-op.
“These types of pasture wells use very little energy. When we build a mile of line out to them, we never recover our investment out of that mile of line. We started installing solar panels for that reason,” he says.
The keys to solar-powered well systems are well depth and the potential water flow rates required to safely provide water to the cattle through the hottest days of the summer.
“The Eicheles have a relatively shallow well of 60 feet, and the solar pump can produce a more than-adequate flow of 10 to 12 gallons per minute for the herd,” Mork describes. “Overall, it pointed to a perfect application.”
In July, Capital Electric Lineman Steve Harrington and Lead Lineman John Frey cleared an area in the pasture and set up the storage tank. Then Mork and Josh Schaffner, member services assistant, installed the solar panels, pump, wiring and related system equipment, with assistance from Jesperson.
“The staff at Verendrye Electric are experts in these installations, as they have installed more than 300 systems. They are also a dealer and distributor for solar pumping materials,” Mork says.
Curtis and Brenda Eichele are the first Capital Electric Cooperative members to operate a solar-powered pasture well near their farm and ranch near Driscoll.
The system utilizes four photovoltaic panels, 60 volts DC each, installed to face south and capitalize on the sun’s rays. The existing submersible pump is replaced by a specially designed solar pump and a 4,000-gallon storage tank set up adjacent to the drinking tank. The solar pump keeps the storage tank full as the water gravity flows to the drinking tank through a mechanical float valve. The storage tank is black, so it limits algae growth. If the sun doesn’t shine for several days, the cattle have the stored water to draw from, plus it will be cooler and the cattle will require less water. Curtis can also plug in a generator and run the pump, should an emergency arise due to extended cloud cover or system repair. He lives nearby and can frequently check the well.
Capital Electric’s investment came to about $9,000, versus the $40,000 it would have cost to build the new distribution line. Mork says the Eicheles will continue to pay a seasonal minimum charge.
Mork expects more Capital Electric members to consider a solar pasture well service when installing new pasture wells, where the cost to electrify the well is paid up front by the member. The co-op is in the process of implementing a policy for solar well systems and will have it ready for 2015.
The system is a win-win, for the co-op’s farmer-producers and the entire membership. In addition, solar power is renewable energy, and the cooperative is proud to be a good steward of the environment.
It’s also a win for the contented cows grazing in the Eichele’s pasture.
“The value of having a fresh supply of clean water is very important to the health and weight gain of those animals. That is why we are so appreciative of having a fresh water supply brought to us by solar power,” Brenda says.
Capital Electric Cooperative thanks members Curtis and Brenda Eichele for sharing their story, and for helping to educate the membership on this innovative technology brought to them by their local Touchstone Energy® Cooperative.