Lowering monthly electricity bills is probably motivation enough for most pork producers to consider fluorescent lighting, high-efficiency ventilation systems and other energy-saving equipment. But getting a rebate from your power company to help pay for those devices is icing on the cake, says Iowa pork producer Rob Brenneman.

Several years ago, Brenneman converted from incandescent lighting in his finishing facilities, nurseries and farrowing barns to fluorescent lights. His utility company, Alliant Energy, based in Madison, WI, rebated him a portion of the associated costs, including $2 for each 30-watt, compact fluorescent bulb and $20 apiece for permanent Orion 32-watt fixtures.

Besides reducing out-of-pocket expenses for the new lights, the rebates encouraged Brenneman to search for other power drains on his farm.

“We found certain finishing sites were cheaper to run than others,” says Brenneman, who later enlisted Alliant to conduct energy audits at all of his production sites. “When we looked at where that electricity was going, we found that some fans were better than others, even though every (manufacturer) says it has a high-efficiency fan.”

Brenneman, who operates a farrow-to-finish operation with his wife Char, son Tim and son-in-law Tyler in Washington County, IA, replaced inefficient stir fans, controls and ventilation fans in several facilities and was awarded rebates by Alliant for many of those improvements.

Mark Kingland, an Alliant technical support project manager based in Mason City, IA, says Alliant customers can expect to earn over $3,300 in rebates on energy-efficient lights and fans for a new 2,400-head, tunnel-ventilated finishing facility. Some 45 different items appear on Alliant's rebate list with payments ranging from just a few dollars per item to $150 per 48-in., high-efficiency fan.

Rebate offers like the Alliant program are available at a number of other utility companies, so it can pay producers to talk to their electricity provider to determine if they qualify for payments.

Ongoing Energy Savings

Kingland, who is also a partner in a hog operation in northern Iowa, explains that by encouraging customers to save energy, utility companies ultimately benefit. In the past 30 years, per capita energy consumption has been on a steady increase, he explains.

“If we can save some energy, especially during peak demand, we don't have to build as many power plants for new generation,” Kingland says, adding that new plants are costly to build and tightly regulated.

In addition, the ongoing energy savings are a boost to the bottom line for utility customers like Brenneman. After he upgraded his facilities, his monthly electricity bills were cut in half in some cases. “The finishing sites were running in the $300-500/month range, and we got those down into the $200 range,” Brenneman says.

Kingland estimates that high-efficiency lights and fans installed in a 2,400-head, tunnel-ventilated finisher can save nearly $4,000 in annual energy costs.

“Helping the businesses that are spinning our meters be more efficient and stay in business is a good thing for us,” Kingland says. Last year, Alliant's agricultural rebate program equaled a 6.8 million kilowatt electricity savings for customers in Iowa and Minnesota.

Custom Rebates

Two years ago, Chuck Peters wanted to determine the impact of variable rate controllers vs. manual thermostats for supplemental heaters in farrowing crates. Peters is a co-owner of Wakefield Pork, a 40,000-head, farrow-to-finish operation based in Gaylord, MN.

Working with Herdstar and BENCO, Wakefield's electricity provider, Peters set up a one-year trial in a Wakefield farrowing room. BENCO supplied meters to monitor electricity use on each side of the room, with thermostats on one side and Herdstar's MicroZone controllers on the other. The controllers are designed to adjust the output from heat lamps or mats depending on the ambient temperature and the age of the pigs.

Peters was impressed with results from using the variable rate controllers. “We were creating a little better environment for the pig and saving energy,” he says. Based on the trial, BENCO offered to rebate Wakefield about a third of the equipment cost to install the Herdstar controllers in three farrowing units.

Peters says electricity consumption has been about 15% lower in the units where the Herdstar controllers are installed, and shares this example of energy use from a 3,300-head site:

2007 718,000 kilowatts
2008 608,000 kilowatts

“It would appear that we can pay for the equipment and installation in 4-5 years,” says Peters. “I think they were worth the investment.”

Alliant also offers customized rebates on equipment such as variable rate controllers and other equipment proven to save energy. But Kingland is quick to point out the rebates are not as significant to a producer's bottom line as ongoing energy efficiency. “What you really need to look at is the energy savings over the next 20 years,” says Kingland.