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Alpaca Farmers Shearing Energy Costs with Solar

June 24, 2010 - 4:11pm

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Alpacas stand outside a solar powered barn on the property of Larry and Cathi Dietsch | Photo courtesy of Larry Dietsch

Alpacas stand outside a solar powered barn on the property of Larry and Cathi Dietsch | Photo courtesy of Larry Dietsch

 

It takes a lot of work – and energy – to keep a herd of alpacas, known for their lustrous, long wool coats, happy and healthy.  But, by harnessing the sun to power their 12-acre farm, a Georgia couple has shown they are up to the task.  

Larry and Cathi Dietsch, owners of Destiny Alpacas in Young Harris, are reaping the benefits of the 2.4 kilowatt solar power system they installed on top of their barn last year, earning cash from the extra energy produced.

"We are actually making more money than what we are paying into it," says Larry. The system produces 250 to 350 kwh of energy per month, more than enough to power all of the farm's needs.

Since the system is tied to the grid, the Dietsches' power company - Blue Ridge Mountain Electric- gives the couple 12 cents for every unused kilowatt. As a result, Larry and Cathy receive more than $100 per year that can go towards raising alpacas and paying for the cost of installing the solar panels. "We are buying at night and selling during the day," Larry says. 

The barn where the solar paneling is installed is the heart of the Dietsches' business. "That's the showcase where everybody sees the alpacas," Larry says. The 25 alpacas, members of the camel family and indigenous to South America, stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer thanks to the energy provided by the system.

"It takes care of everything from heat to fans," says Larry. 

The Dietsches sheer the animals once a year in the barn and make eco-friendly products from alpaca fleece.  "Both my wife and I knit. I make hats and she makes scarves," Larry says.

The solar panels also power an electric golf cart that the Dietsches drive around the property.

About 1603 grants

  • Under Section 1603 of the Recovery Act, the Treasury Department can award grants to property owners who invest in renewable energy for business reasons. Applicants who accept 1603 grants forego tax credits for energy property. The goal of the program is to provide incentives for renewable energy that tax credits may not offer

Larry, a former engineer who worked on biowaste projects before becoming an alpaca farmer 10 years ago, says both he and his wife value the environment so the decision to install the solar panels made sense. "It fits with our lifestyle with being environmentally friendly," he says.
 
Financing small-scale solar for business

The switch to solar was even easier, Larry says, due to federal and state aid. "With all the grants that came out, it just made a whole lot of sense." A $5,831 1603 grant — offered by the Treasury Department and funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — slashed the $20,000 installation cost.

Grants from the state of Georgia helped defray the cost of the solar panels as well, which will be fully financed soon. "It will be paid off in a year," Larry says.

The Dietsches are enjoying their investment in renewable energy. The system is "exciting" and "keeps working," Larry says. "There's no maintenance, no moving parts."

Larry says he is spreading the word about solar energy to his neighbors.  "It's such a good deal. I don't know why more people aren't doing it."

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