Lakeview可持续能源十大采访之二:农场上的太阳能


My home-stay mom took me and Amanda to the WSG Ranch
on Saturday, September 18th. The ranch belongs to PB (home-stay mom’s
co-worker at the courthouse) and KB. My interview with KB was taking place at
noon in his office on the ranch. He used to be logger in the McDonald Forests
in Corvallis, but as the timber industry was gone, he moved to Lake County and
started managing this ranch.

YY: Could you introduce this ranch a little bit?

KB: Sure. This ranch is diversified by the cattle
operation as well as a guest ranch. We’ve done these two diversifications in
order to keep our income up and have a livable income. We have the horses as
well, and the horses are used to move cows, and guests at the ranch can also
ride the horses if they like. We also raise chickens. Our guests like fresh
eggs, and they don’t get them very often, so we keep chickens here so they can
enjoy them. It also kept our budget a little bit. It is less expensive to have
fresh eggs here than buy them from outside.

YY: How big is your ranch?

KB: We have 2540 acres. That’s our deeded land, the
land we own. Also we have the government permits, and there’s about 2000 acres
of permit land in the ranch. In that sense, it’s close to 5,000 acres in total
we manage our cows on.

YY: The permit land is part of the ranch?

KB: It’s fenced into the ranch. That keeps us from
having to mix our cattle with the neighbors’ cattle, so we keep it enclosed.
There’s a less chance of spreading diseases, and it makes a lot easier for
working.

YY: I’m surprised that the government allows you to
put up the fence to enclose the permit land.

KB: Actually, the government put up the fence
originally, and we are in charge of maintaining the fence and keeping it up.

YY: How does the grazing permit work?

KB: Our permit runs from May 15th through
July 31st. During this period, our cattle can run on the government
land. Then after that we move out cattle up to the deeded land. The rest of the
grazing is done on our land. In winter time we feed the cattle hays.

YY: Where does your hay come from?

KB: It comes from a neighbor’s place. We buy our hay,
we graze our land, but we cannot harvest enough hay from our ranch to sustain
the cows over the wintertime. Due to the cost of the equipment to harvest that
hay and the small amount of acreage that is “hayable”, it is not economically
beneficial, so we just don’t do that. We just pay someone else to provide the
hay.

YY: Is there a physical boundary that separates your
land and the federal land?

KB: In some places, no.

YY: Then how can you guarantee that the cattle don’t
graze on public land out of the permit timeframe?

KB: For the place where there is no fence between my
land and the public land, we manage that as a unit in itself. Our portion of
the land, we only graze it during the permit period. But the fenced areas are all
our deeded land. I could fence our portion out and graze it all year long, but
it’ll cost me money to put up fence there and it’s hard to put fence there
because it’s a rough country. The other thing is I don’t want so many fences
out there. Wildlife has to live there with us too. The more fences you have,
the more restrictions for wildlife. It’s hard for them to get around. It’s my
purpose not to have that. The fewer fences we have, the better it is for the
wildlife.

YY: Could you tell me more about the tourism on the
ranch?

KB: Our Bed & Breakfast starts in April. It’s
strictly just Bed & Breakfast. Then from May 15th is when we
start the guest ranch part, which includes evening meals and horse related
activities. That runs through the end of September, September 30th.
The reason we stop then is because the weather gets so unpredictable after that
time. We can get snow anytime. It’s not worth having someone drive all the way
here to have a bad time because of the weather, which we have no control over.

YY: What do you do for the rest of the time?

KB: Taking care of the cattle, doing maintenance on
the cabins, and getting ready for the next season for guests. Mostly feeding the
cattle.

YY: I noticed you have solar panels and wind turbine
on your ranch. Could you talk about the energy features here?

KB: This ranch is off-grid, and the closest power
post is 6 miles away, no matter which direction you go out. The cost of
bringing the power in is totally prohibitive. I’ve had this ranch for 14 years,
and the initial renewable energy system was here when we got here. That was
just a small solar panel we showed you outside with old batteries. We used that
system for 13 years. We used a generator to back up and we had to use it a lot.
The generator was powered by propane. When we put in the new system, we added
the new solar panels to the old system, we quadrupled our power output. Therefore,
we cut the generator runtime down by about 85%. The small old panel generates
360 watts and the big panel generates 1080 watts. So the total sum is almost
1500 watts, so we almost quadrupled our power. It’s not only convenient to have
all this power, but also we cut down the runtime of the generator powered by
propane, which saves us $1200 a year for the propane costs by installing that
extra solar power.

YY: This new solar system has been up for 1 year?

KB: Yeah it’s been 1 year now.

YY: How did you finance the solar panels?

KB: The USDA has rural grants for alternative
energy. That is 25% of the cost of the system that leaves the responsibility of
75% to the recipient of the grant. But there’s also a tax credit from the
federal government, which provides 30% tax credits of the 75% of the total cost
on your shoulder as long as you have that much taxes. There was a potential for
the state incentive, Business Energy Tax Credit from the State. But it has to
be hooked up to the exclusive business building. We would not qualify for that
because this building is both residential and business. We do all the food
preparations in our house, we do all our breakfasts in our house, all the
linens from the cabins are washed in here, all the dishes guests use are washed
in here. So this is a combination of business and residential building. But in
order to qualify for BETC, it has to be exclusively business, not residential. When
we filled out the application for BETC, it asked us is it a business, is it a
residence, or is it a combination of both. And I put down it is a combination
of business and residence. They accepted that application. They said it’s OK.
They said this is how much money you can get as tax credits. Well, then after
you do the project, you have to send them a final report, saying we have
completed it, and this is how much it costs. Then they come out and inspect it.
When I sent that report in, they saw this is also residence, at that point,
they turned me down.

YY: Why did they allow you to choose the option of
combination of both on the application in the first place?

KB: That’s what I asked them. I think what’s
happened is they changed their minds. This is a new program. I think what
happened is when they see this is how much money it’ll cost them, they canceled
that out in midstream, so I get caught.

YY: You are the victim.

KB: I’m the victim. That’s exactly right.

YY: Could you sue them?

KB: I could, but I wouldn’t. Actually, in the original
application, there was a fee that I paid. When I found out that they wouldn’t
accept it, I said I think you owe me a refund of the fee, they did give me back
75%.

YY: Why not 100%?

KB: Because that’s their policy.

YY: How much would BETC cover the cost?

KB: That’s 50%. If I get BETC, I’ll only pay 15% of
the total cost of the system, but now I’ll have to pay 45%.

YY: How much is the total cost of this solar system?

KB: $15,000. I have to pay the full cost in the
beginning out of my pocket, and after the project is done, I get the grants,
the tax credits, and things like that. But $15,000 upfront. $15,000*75%*70%=$7875
is how much I paid. But if I don’t put this system in, I was due to replace my
old batteries, and that will cost me $2500. So essentially, the reason why this
grant and tax credits look so good to me is because I was going to pay for that
$2500 anyways for the batteries. Batteries are the weakness of alternative
energy. They wear out. The old batteries that I had wore out about 7 years. So
I had to replace them before. Now with this new solar system I got the best
batteries that I can get, and their warranty is for 15 years. So I’ll never
have to replace batteries again for 15 years. If you take care of them, it’ll
last for 20 years, and they have historically lasted that long. The new battery
is $1200 each, and there are 6 of them, so $7200 in total, which is included in
the total cost. The whole package includes the batteries, the inverter, the
charger, the controller, all the solar panels, and the tracker which follows
the sun. They are all in that $15,000.

YY: Do the new batteries also store electricity
generated from your old solar system?

KB: Yes. I changed the wiring circuit, so it takes
that too.

YY: How did you get the wind turbine?

KB: I put that in 12 years ago. The only reason for
that wind generator is in the wintertime with less solar power due to shorter
days and more overcast you are not producing as much electricity as you are
doing in summertime. We do have lots of wind in wintertime here. So the wind
generator picks up the slack and produces enough extra that keeps the system
level throughout the year.

YY: Is the electricity generated by wind stored in
the batteries as well?

KB: Yes.

YY: Have you thought about adding new wind turbines
on the ranch?

KB: No. It will produce way more electricity than we
could use. We don’t have the infrastructure, the power lines here, to sell it
out. The other thing is I probably wouldn’t do it anyways because it will take
away the aesthetics of the ranch. It wouldn’t be pleasing for people to come
and stay and have a big wind turbine standing there.

YY: Do you think the current renewable policies make
sense?

KB: The renewable energy technology is not as
developed yet that you can call it green. Example, the batteries we are using
here, when they are done, what will happen to them? All that lead is not good
for the environment. The renewable energy science is still not developed to the
point where they should be able to use the term “green” on it. The current
administration is pushing it so hard because they want to shift from the dams, the
coal plants, and stuff like that to renewable “green” energy. They are trying
to accelerate it so fast that they are way ahead of what science is able to
keep up with. They are trying to push something that is not what they say it
is. Just like they are pushing for the electric cars, but they still have their
batteries there.

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