Posted: Jan 24, 2015 7:22 PM CST
By Kaitlyn Riley

Spring Valley (WQOW) – Hundreds of farmers are visiting Eau Claire this weekend for the 84th Annual Wisconsin Farmer’s Union Convention. One of this year’s major topics is using solar energy in agriculture.

Spring Valley Farmer Joseph Bacon first started turning sunshine into savings in 2009.

“We wanted to get into solar just because we wanted to feel like we were a green business, so by doing this, we help the electric co-op and ourselves become more energy independent.”

“I think solar is critical for the economic viability of agriculture going forward because we need to find a better distributed system of electricity,” Wisconsin Farmers Union Special Projects Coordinator Sarah Lloyd says.

But cost is often a big factor. To help foot the bill, Bacon applied for solar energy grants. They paid for half of the $80,000 dollar project. But many are paying even less today.

“If you were to build our system today, you could build our system with less than what our share of the grant was less than half,” Bacon says.

John Daugherty with Sunvest Solar Inc. says panel prices have dropped 80% in the last five years with an increase in panel production. But he think that’s about as good as the prices will get.

“We’re not going to see anything like that again,” Daugherty says. “It already happened. Now is a good time. It’s going to continue to be a good time.”

But for Bacon, the project seems to be paying off. He says they only pay for electricity in November and December, and even get money for the extra electricity they produce.

“You really come to appreciate the sun when you are making electricity because when there is no sun, you are not making any,” Bacon says.

His solar electricity does everything from heating his cows’ water in the winter. To giving his car enough energy to drive 20 miles without gasoline.

Bacon says his heating bills in the winter months usually come to about $200. Less than 1% of Wisconsin’s energy is produced by solar power. The Wisconsin Farmer’s Union is pushing state policy that allows more agricultural use of solar energy.