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Solar Power Projects

PV Stock Water Pump Replaces Wasteful Wind System

Jim and Adele Ballard graze 250 cattle on their ranch in the Musselshell River valley near Lavina, Montana. For many years, the Ballard Ranch has used a windmill to pump water from a 65 foot deep well to a pair of stock tanks holding about 4,000 gallons. In most summers, 100 cow/calf pairs rely on these tanks for their drinking water. Maintenance has become a headache, though, and in 1999 Jim spent 10 days fixing the windmill.

When the windmill failed completely, the Ballards had to haul water to their cattle for 45 days during the summer. The Ballards happened to see a photovoltaic pumping system at a neighbor's ranch, one of two solar stock-watering wells sponsored by the Painted Robe Creek watershed group. The Ballards' research indicated that solar would cost about the same as a replacement windmill but would require less maintenance. Their third option, a propane-powered generator, looked considerably more expensive. Since the well is almost two miles from the nearest power line, a grid-powered electric pumping system was out of the question, requiring a prohibitively expensive line extension.

Working with NCAT and Midland Implement (in Billings), the Ballards installed a solar-powered pumping system this spring. Besides cost and convenience, the Ballards like their solar system for other reasons: Some of the hottest days of summer are calm, drastically limiting windmill output. Also, it had always bothered them that their windmill would continue pumping after the tanks were filled, spilling water out onto the ground. Their new photovoltaic system uses a float switch to turn off the water when the tanks are filled, preventing any spillage or waste.

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