Sun helping power brothers’ farms

Jon Eversman points to the energy meter on the back of an array, showing that it is collecting about 6,000 watts of energy.

FAIRMONT — Jon and Jeff Eversman have had an interest in solar energy for a few years. Now they have taken that interest and run with it, working with Blue Horizon Energy to install a series of 12, dual-axis tracking solar arrays on their farms.

The systems are the first of their kind in Martin County, and both men were available to discuss the process and why they believe the move toward solar is the right way to go.

After seeing ads in a magazine for Blue Horizon, the brothers were quickly intrigued. Both Jon and Jeff were interested in “going solar” in order to be more energy efficient and environmentally friendly, as well as using the generated energy for daily farming operations.

“After the way the year went, we thought the tax incentives were going to work well for us, and we thought this would be the year to do it,” Jon said. “Plus, Blue Horizon didn’t have any in Martin County, so that was a plus for us.”

“For the last two or three years I’ve been thinking about solar energy,” Jeff said. “I knew the government has a program where they give you rebates because they want you to do solar. So I got in touch with Blue Horizon.”

When asked about installation, Jon said the process was relatively fast.

“We needed a variance and I got that at the end of September,” he said. “Once they had all their equipment and all the stuff for them, they had them ready within two weeks, then it was just a matter of getting the electricians to come in. Then they had to go through Federated Rural Electric because that’s who supplies the power. And then on Dec. 10, they had them commissioned and got them going.”

Blue Horizon Sales representative Barry Thompson explains how the arrays are able to track the sun throughout the day, enabling the most efficient energy collection possible.

“There’s a magnet in the tracking unit on the very north side,” he said. “When they put the piers in the ground, there’s a point where they have to hit straight north. When they do that, they bolt the mast on the ground portion, and the magnet tells the tracker where north is and a software algorithm tells it where it is in the world with a GPS and tells it where to point.

“So then a little motor will fire up and move it 3 degrees so it’s a degree and a half ahead of the sun at that point. Then it sits idle and waits until the sun moves and catches up.”

Thompson said the panels also will tilt upward and lay flat during summer hours when the sun is directly overhead. He noted that while this time of year has fewer daylight hours, it is actually optimal for collecting the most solar energy.

“What happens when these panels get hotter or colder than 39 degrees, they start to lose efficiency,” he said. “Energy doesn’t like flowing through hot wires, so if you built this exact same array in Texas or Florida, the one here would out-perform it.

“We take what we get and engineer for it. The goal is to yield the most you can on a year-round basis.”

Thompson said the arrays are fairly resilient when it comes to weather.

“In the history of the company, we’ve had one array damaged in a hail storm. On the guy’s whole array he only lost 25 panels, but we took care of them and the insurance company paid for it, and we really haven’t had a lot of problems.”

Jeff said the panels will flatten out when strong winds come along, offering little resistance, allowing storms and wind to blow safely by. Thompson said that when laying flat, the arrays are rated for 125 mph winds.

Another factor that attracted the men to Blue Horizon is the fact that the setup is entirely American made. With parts manufactured in Vermont, Washington and Arizona, Thompson said this is an important factor for most of his customers.

Both men are happy with their investment, as both the state of Minnesota and the federal government are pushing for more solar energy.

“The energy that we save on paying the electricity bill will go toward these until they’re paid for,” Jeff said. “So it’s really not changing our cash flow at all, and in seven years it will be paid for and then it’s gravy after that.”

“It’s just a win-win for everybody,” Thompson said. “What used to be an expense is now a profit in the form of avoided loss.”