Chatfield native Dennis Hamm was honored by the USDA last Wednesday for his recent addition of solar panels, which now supplies the energy needed to run his farm.  From left, Tim Gossman, Hamm’s parents Jerry and Karen Hamm, Solar Connection reps Micah Johnson and Kurt Shellum, USDA Rural Development State Director Colleen Landkamer, Dennis Hamm and Chuck Ackman, a representative of Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s office.  PAULA VAGTS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Chatfield native Dennis Hamm was honored by the USDA last Wednesday for his recent addition of solar panels, which now supplies the energy needed to run his farm. From left, Tim Gossman, Hamm’s parents Jerry and Karen Hamm, Solar Connection reps Micah Johnson and Kurt Shellum, USDA Rural Development State Director Colleen Landkamer, Dennis Hamm and Chuck Ackman, a representative of Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s office. PAULA VAGTS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
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USDA Minnesota Rural Development State Director Colleen Landkamer honored Dennis Hamm last Wednesday for his work on improving the efficiency of his farm operations by utilizing the renewable energy source of solar power.

The Chatfield native is one of 75 rural small business owners and agricultural producers throughout Minnesota who have participated in and received funds through the USDA Rural Development's Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP). The objective of the program is to provide assistance to interested persons in rural areas who are working to reduce their energy consumption and costs through the use of renewable energy.

Chuck Ackman, a representative of Sen. Amy Klobuchar's office, explained that the program has been highly successful partly because farmers inherently think long-term when it comes to the legacy of their farms.

As for Hamm's project, he admits he has always been interested in using solar energy on his farm and had read about the grants available, but it was a trip to a farm show that put this project into motion. There he was introduced to a company called Solar Connections based out of Rochester.

"We came out here, checked out the site and roof, then came up with a design that would work and went from there," explained Solar Connections operations manager Micah Johnson.

It was Solar Connections who ultimately helped Hamm look into REAP. From there he enlisted the help of a grant writer and his banker at Root River State Bank, Tim Gossman, and regional USDA representative Naomi Lenz.

Though he admits with all the paperwork, the process wasn't a breeze, the results seem to be positive so far.

In total, 150 solar panels were put on the roof of a machine shed. Those panels are estimated to produce 48,914-kilowatt hours (KWH) annually with a potential savings of $5,550 annually for electricity.

In fact, the panels have only been in use since Oct. 3 and have already left Hamm with a $219.93 credit with People's Electric Coop, which is more than initially expected.

The system is set up so that the initial energy produced will go toward any electricity needs on the property with the excess then going to People's Electric Coop, which purchases the electricity from Hamm.

"In layman's terms, his meter spins backwards," Johnson said of the process. "Not a drop of the energy is being wasted, it's always being used."

Landkamer continued, "That shows the importance of community. You're not only saving electricity here, but you're helping your neighbors and producing energy in the United States as opposed to importing foreign oil."

Johnson and fellow Solar Connections representative Kurt Shellum said though Minnesota winters can slow down the process due to the snow covering the panels and less daylight, the amount of sunlight the state gets throughout the entire year more than makes up for the winter loss.

Overall, Hamm is satisfied knowing he is producing his own energy, instead of depending on foreign oil, without encroaching on his neighbors. And it has the added benefit of needing very little maintenance or upkeep.