A bright idea: family business installs on-farm solar energy systems in rural Iowa

In early 2013, Jason Egli and his wife, Gabrielle, were living and working as engineers in Cedar Falls, Iowa. They had been trying for years to find jobs that would allow them to move back home to rural Louisa County, but jobs suited to their experience and talents were hard to come by.

That same year, Jason’s cousin, a farmer in Jefferson County, Iowa, asked him to help design and install a solar photovoltaic (PV) system for some of his hog buildings. As a contract feeder, one of the few expenses he could control was his energy bill. At the time, his utility offered a temporary rebate on solar panels. With solar on his buildings, he was able to substantially reduce his electricity costs, taking advantage of available tax credits and depreciation on the panels to lower his tax burden.

Jason and his cousins, Nathan, Ryan, and Mark Porter, installed several solar systems on family members’ farms and quickly began getting calls from neighbors asking for help with their solar installations. EPo Energy was born, and Jason and Gabrielle were able to move back to Louisa County, Iowa.

EPo Energy now has four full-time employee-owners, including Jason and Nathan, and employs 20 to 30 part-time contractors. Among them, the four primary owners have 50+ years of business and farming experience. Although this experience certainly contributes to their success, EPo works hard to build trust within a community where most customers hear about them by word of mouth.

In the four years since this rural, family-owned business formed, it has installed more than six megawatts (MW) of solar in Iowa – about 16 percent of the solar installations in the state. EPo specializes in on-farm solar and helping nonprofit organizations take advantage of this technology. A couple years ago, they helped WACO community school district in Wayland, Iowa, locate investors for a solar project that saves the district the equivalent of a teacher’s salary every year.

Jason explains that the main reason for a farmer to invest in solar is to control electricity costs. An on-farm solar PV system can pay itself back in just a few years, and will lower a farmer’s energy costs for decades. At a time when farmers are subject to increasingly negative stereotypes, Jason says investing in solar is a good way for farmers to demonstrate their commitment to helping solve environmental problems such as poor water quality and global warming.

EPo Energy is on the forefront of an energy revolution that is already bringing economic opportunity, lower electricity costs, and energy choice to rural communities across the country. Policies that invest in tax credits and research help spur this transition. As the market grows, solar energy will drop further in price and become even more accessible. In the meantime, companies like EPo will continue to do what rural businesses do best – serve their communities through innovation, hard work, and leadership.