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Incentives pay for pump improvement

A Nebraska Public Power District test of 261 irrigation systems provided further evidence of the need to improve irrigation pumping plant efficiencies, and also of the opportunities you have to save both money and water by making improvements.

The evaluations in 2006 and 2007 were done in partnership with Sargent Irrigation and local electric utilities throughout the state, says Ron Rose, NPPD energy-efficiency consultant in York. The combined data from the two years showed that just 32% of the 261 pumps evaluated were considered to be running efficiently or, in other words, were rated above today’s general pumping standard of 70%, he says.

About 39% of the pumping plants evaluated were below that 70% efficiency standard, which, according to Rose, means irrigators have the opportunity to make improvements in their pumps and possibly save costs. Twenty-nine percent of the systems checked could have been improved by going from mid- and high-pressure pivots to low-pressure pivots.

At a glance

Many irrigation pumps can be more efficient with minor changes.

For electric systems, NPPD offers some financial incentives.

USDA’s Rural Development offers grants and loans.


NPPD used the data to develop a two-pronged incentive program to get irrigators to test their systems and make improvements. From the standpoint of energy sources, it’s estimated that 52% or more of the irrigation pumps in Nebraska are powered by electricity.

“A 10% decrease in an irrigation system’s efficiency, depending on many factors, may translate into an extra several hundred dollars spent each year,” Rose says. “Sometimes, as much as half of the water delivered through the system does not benefit the crop.”

The programs include:

up to $350 to cover the cost of pump efficiency tests for eligible irrigators

energy-efficiency payments to make improvements in the system based in part on the pump test results

Payment is up to 20 cents per kilowatt-hour saved. If, for instance, you save 10,000 kwh, that’s a $2,000 incentive.

“It’s very cost-effective for utilities to offer these incentives,” Rose says. “One reason is to help lower peak loads during summer. Also, it’s important for utilities to push back to the future the next power plant, considering the high construction and regulatory costs. We can do that with higher efficiencies today.”

Rose recommends contacting your local electrical utility for information, especially before committing to purchase or installation of improvements.

You can also call NPPD at 877-275-6773.

Rural Development programs

Rural Development is a U.S. Department of Agriculture agency with programs that provide financial incentives to improve the energy efficiency of irrigation systems, regardless of energy source.

Under the Rural Energy for America Program, or REAP, the agency provides grants and loans to make energy-efficiency improvements for a wide variety of agricultural energy-related projects, including irrigation, says Deb Yocum, Rural Development energy coordinator in Lincoln.

Among the latter are converting diesel irrigation engines to electric motors, rebowling wells, renozzling center pivots and switching from gravity-flow irrigation to pivots or subsurface drip.

The REAP program also has incentives for on-farm and small-business renewable energy projects.

Yocum says Nebraska’s funding allocation for 2011 is unknown at present. She says the sign-up deadline will be announced later, but should be about mid-June.

You can contact the state Rural Development office at 402-437-5554, or these regional offices in Nebraska: Scottsbluff, 308-632-2195; Ainsworth, 402-387-2242; Norfolk, 402-371-5350; North Platte, 308-534-2360; and Kearney, 308-237-3118.


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WATER LEVEL: Ron Rose, NPPD energy-efficiency consultant, conducts a groundwater-level check on an irrigation well. Cuming County Public Power District photo

This article published in the April, 2011 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.