Millions of Americans are going “organic” when they shop for food at the local supermarket or farmers market. Purists may want to take the next step and go “renewable” as well.
More and more farms are now producing their own renewable energy, according to the first national survey released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As of 2009, more than 8,500 U.S. farm operations were producing energy from solar panels, wind turbines or methane digesters, a significant increase over the past decade.
From 2005 to 2009, U.S. farmers installed more than 108,000 solar panels, compared to 45,000 in the previous five-year period and fewer than 19,000 in all years prior to 2000.
As usual, California led the nation with almost 2,000 farm operations reporting some form of renewable energy on site. The vast majority of these had solar installations—indeed, California installed more than half of all solar panels on farms nationwide over the past half decade—but 134 farms also reported having wind turbines and 14 had methane digesters, which typically capture methane emitted by the decomposition of animal waste.
California wineries are particularly avid champions of solar energy. Constellation Wines, for example, installed some 17,000 solar panels at four of its wineries in the state, with financial assistance from incentive programs administered by PG&E. Solar is so popular in the wine country that theft of solar panels has become a major problem.
Besides contributing to a cleaner environment, farmers around the country who produced renewable energy on-site saved about $2,400 on their utility bills in 2009, the Agriculture Department reports.