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Looking for savings in the turkey barn

Pete Swenson, from left, Mike Langmo and Fritz Ebinger discuss LED lighting in turkey barns during a recent seminar in Willmar. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

WILLMAR –– Turkey farmers looking for ways to trim expenses learned about potential savings by using LED lights in their barns during a recent seminar in Willmar.

About 60 people, including local and regional turkey producers, attended the event.

Sponsored by the West Central Clean Energy Resource Teams and The Minnesota Project, information included results of a study that was conducted from April 2011 to December 2013 involving LED lights in 23 barns operated by 12 farmers.

The study, funded by a Conservation Applied Research and Development grant, looked at the potential energy savings, cost effectiveness and practical performance of LED lights in turkey barns.

Data compared LED lights to other common barn lighting options, including high-pressure sodium, incandescent bulbs (which are being phased out) and compact fluorescent lights.

Depending on the season, lights in a turkey barn can be on from 5 to 24 hours a day — with the average of 13 hours a day all year long.

Because of the heavy use, lighting can make up two-thirds of a turkey barn’s electrical consumption costs, which makes it a good target for potential cost reductions.

Mike Langmo, a turkey farmer from Litchfield, said he’s seen energy savings since installing LED lights in his barns.

Because turkey growers “don’t have a lot of extra dollars” to swing a profit, Langmo said retrofitting barns with LED lights is a positive step “from the fact that you’re saving money on energy.”

Pete Swenson, an independent turkey grower from Willmar who works with Gorans Brothers farms, said electrical costs are likely to go up and he expects to see increased payback from his LED retrofit.

Swenson advised others to analyze their energy use and electrical bills and “crunch all the numbers to see if it makes sense to retrofit.”

Most of the payback is because LED lights use a fraction of the kilowatt-hours of other lights.

Because an LED light can burn for 50,000 hours and last 11½  years in a turkey barn — compared to an incandescent bulb that burns 1,000 hours and lasts about three months — there is also savings in reduced labor costs for replacing hundreds of lights in barns each year, according to data from the study.

The report also indicates high-pressure sodium bulbs burn for 24,000 hours and last 5½ years and a compact fluorescent light (CFL) burns for 10,000 hours and lasts about 2½ years.

Switching from incandescent bulbs to LED lights had average energy savings of 86 percent and switching from high-powered sodium to LED lights had 78 percent energy savings, according to the study.  

The purchase price of LED lights, however, presents a significant expense.

According to the study, an LED bulb currently costs $35, compared to $14 for a high-pressure sodium bulb, $3 for CFL and 75 cents for an incandescent bulb.

Still, the report said it would take just one to two years to see a return on the investment by replacing cheap incandescent bulbs with the expensive LED bulbs.

The payback pace on the cost of investment can be offset by state grants for energy audits and rebates offered by many local power cooperatives for retrofit projects.

But Dan Tepfer, of the Kandiyohi Power Cooperative, cautioned that if the project’s cost effectiveness depends on a rebate from the electrical company, then it probably shouldn’t be pursued.

A rebate can help offset the high retrofit costs, but Tepfer said the project “needs to make sense dollar-wise.”

He said turkey growers should look at their energy demand and use and determine if they’re getting the best value.

Tepfer said most lighting conversions make sense, especially if LED lights are replacing the big energy-using incandescent lights.

The savings are considerably less, and a LED retrofit may not be advisable, if compact fluorescent light bulbs are already being used.

Power cooperatives typically offer rebates to help meet the state mandate for conserving 1.5 percent of annual gross kilowatt sales.

“We need end users to update old technology to help conserve kilowatt-hours,” said Tepfer. “Go talk to your utility. Find out what’s available and get some help determining if the project is worthwhile.”

Tepfer said farmers — or commercial and industrial users — who are considering changing the type of lights they use should talk to their utility company during the exploratory stage before taking action.

For more information on the study and how to apply for grants go to:

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750