MSU hopes solar project inspires farmers, other ag use
MOREHEAD, Ky. (MSU Public Affairs) – Morehead State University is now harnessing the sun’s energy to power its newest demonstration barn, located at the northwest side of the MSU Farm’s property.
Fifty-five solar panels have been placed in the pasture field approximately 75 feet from the barn. Each panel is 39” wide and 76” long while weighing approximately 50 pounds.
They are 365-watt models generating more than 20 kilowatts. The panels’ purpose: to power the lights, fans and water heating elements in the barn—eliminating the need for traditional electric power.
The idea originated more than a year ago when Morehead State alumnus John Cotten, class of 1987, who manages Wilderness Trace Solar in Danville, contacted Department of Agricultural Sciences Chair Dr. Joyce Stubbs (79, 81).
He not only wanted to bring solar power to the farm, but to do so at little to no cost to the institution
“MSU has given so much to me, I just wanted to give something back,” Cotten said. “I’ve known Joyce for a long time and I’m excited to help her and the University with this project.”
“I was immediately intrigued by the idea, especially after John told me that he had an investor,” Stubbs said. “He lived in Morehead for many years, is very familiar with this area and the farm and was excited about helping us access solar energy.”
The project’s investor is Gary Booth, a native of Wolfe County and former executive with Cincinnati-based Proctor and Gamble. Most recently, he founded Starshine Energy, a photoelectric utility providing clean energy to eastern Kentucky.
Booth’s investment is $100,000 on a 20-year contract, with the farm agreeing to pay $3,000 annually. However, with access to private funds to cover that cost, there will be no University money spent on the project.
So how much money will be saved by incorporating solar? That’s still to be determined, but if all goes as planned, the savings should be significant enough to pique the interest of many other Kentucky farmers.
“Yes, we’re hoping this will encourage many of our area farmers to incorporate renewable energy into their operations,” said MSU Farm Manager Joe Fraley (94). “They can get cost-share money to help install, plus there’s tax credits available. There’s definitely potential for long term savings.”
The barn has a bedded pack area, which includes 18” deep of sawdust mixed with manure that is cultivated daily. The fans push air to the ground to dry the mixture, providing the animals a comfortable place to lay. There’s also a bonus use for the panels as their eight steel beams provide a shade for cattle in the field.
“To our knowledge, this will be the first setup of its kind in bulls and steers,” Cotten said. “I’m very excited about it because it potentially opens up a whole new market for us with even the most remote of farms utilizing this technology.”
The barn will be completely off-the-grid for most of the year, powered only by the solar panels. The only exception may come periodically during the winter months when increasing cloud cover blocks the sun’s rays. Should that happen, a gas generator will be used as a backup power supply.
Cotten first considered solar energy for MSU in 2008 with the idea of powering a greenhouse. Now a dozen years later, the dream is becoming reality—and with amazing potential.
“The goal is to bring Eastern Kentucky into the 22nd century,” Cotten added. “That’s Mr. Booth’s vision and mine too. And Morehead State is playing an important role.”