Solar Panels: Tom McKinney

Tipton County – Kempton, IN

Tom McKinney, Farmer – Kempton, IN

On Tom McKinney’s family farm near Kempton, Indiana, you might be surprised how he generates power to manage the family’s several thousand-acre operation. Tucked away behind his barn and silo are McKinney’s solar panels, a project that generates enough energy to power his farm, grain handling systems, office, house, and then some, saving him money and putting more back into his pocket. The largest factor for Tom when deciding to invest in a solar project was energy efficiency and savings. “I wanted to eliminate one of the bills, the utility bill…so solar made sense,” he shares. 

Tom decided to start this project after researching solar with a friend. To finance the nearly six-figure up-front investment in the project, he opted to take advantage of renewable energy program grants to help fund it. “It’s about a 17 percent return on investment to have the solar farm at this location,” he says, noting that the payback was between five and six years but that grant programs certainly helped. “We took advantage of some programs and it has been the right decision,” Tom says. 

Solar panels can be installed in various ways, so when deciding where to locate them he considered barn roofs and open ground. Ultimately, he opted to place the panels on one acre of untillable land that wasn’t being used before giving purpose to a once-fallow corner of the property. 

Maintenance Isn’t Major

Farmers are always busy so added maintenance isn’t something they take on willingly. Though he was concerned with that at first, Tom says that he experiences little to no maintenance with his solar project. The panels are tilted three times a year using a simple hand crank to increase power generation as the sun changes position with the seasons, this is the only maintenance Tom’s panels require. Tom recalls a while back that a couple of his panels went out, but his contractor replaced them with no problem. “They were still under warranty so the company came and replaced them. They knew it before I did because they monitor my whole solar farm from the internet.” Tom even acknowledges that adding solar has been one of the easiest equipment investments he’s made. In fact, the panels are so low maintenance Tom says: “If there’s one project that I’ve ever done and basically walked away from and not even worried about it is that!”

Tom’s solar panels

Lack of Local Opposition 

When asked about experiencing any local opposition, Tom says he had none. “I don’t really understand why people are so opposed to it. If anything, it certainly helps the municipalities …especially the schools.” He also notes the positive environmental effects that he has personally seen. “Grass grows underneath the panels so you’re going to have wildlife you wouldn’t normally have in a corn or soybean field.”

Renewable Energy is Here to Stay

Tom is certain about the future of alternative or renewable energy, sharing that he believes we are seeing just the beginning. He encourages those wanting to get into solar to research their options and check out emerging technologies. “There isn’t anybody I would not encourage to look at some solar…it just works. It just works!”
To learn more about Tom McKinney’s renewable energy experience and his solar panels, watch IN-ACRE’s interview with him here.