PARK CITY — The income of a Utah farmer could be boosted by what Tom Potter calls "the new energy harvest."

Potter, who works for the public interest group Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, envisions new streams of income being generated on farmlands through wind turbines, geothermal energy, solar energy, and sales of vegetable oil and animal fat for biofuels.

"Five years from now, some of you will be leaders in entrepreneurial services" in alternative energy, Potter told a room of 300 farmers Friday at the midyear conference of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation.

Farmers spend 64 percent of their total input costs on energy, Potter said, which makes energy costs more worrisome for farmers than the rest of the population. But farmers can make small adjustments on their

farms to generate their own energy, saving thousands of dollars. Farmers also will produce energy for public consumption.

Potter described wind energy in Utah as "spotty," with some farmland having stronger and steadier winds than other land. Farmers on windier land can sell wind power to the grid.

"We're talking about millions and millions of dollars. A lot of that is going into the pockets of farmers for lease holds," Potter said.

Utah is located in a high desert, making it the sixth-best state in the country for solar energy, Potter said: "You have tremendous solar resources out here."

The Beehive State's geothermal energy may be in the top three in the nation, he said. Most of the geothermal energy is concentrated in the western part of the state, along the border with Nevada, which has the best geothermal reserves in the country.

Selling sunflower, soy and other vegetable oils, as well as animal fats, for the production of vehicle fuel isn't yet economical because gasoline and diesel are sold at retail for about the same amount as the biofuels, but that could change as petroleum becomes scarcer.

Potter said banks and companies that serve farmers need to take more of a leadership role in promoting energy creation and conservation on the farm. The federal government also needs to help farmers become more energy savvy. He believes the U.S. Department of Agriculture Cooperative Extension System should train extension agents in the nation's 3,000 counties about alternative energy on the farm.

Mike Peterson, who raises beef cows and grows alfalfa in Coalville, said many of Potter's ideas would "probably be beneficial," if farmers applied them.

Peterson plans to purchase solar panels to save electricity and water on his own farm. The panels will supply heat to his tool shop, which is now heated by a boiler, and to his irrigation system, which has to drip water constantly in the winter to prevent freezing.

"The colder it gets, the more it runs," Peterson said.


E-mail: [email protected]