When windstorms in August produced wind speeds of 100 mph to110 mph in northwest Pratt County, they took down a substantial number of power poles including the ones that feed Ed and Lisa Petrowsky's house.
While the Petrowskys suffered some tree damage they did not suffer a power outage. Ed has taken the entire farmhouse and a couple of greenhouses off the grid through four sets of solar panels.
It's a good thing they had solar power because the lines were down for three days and this is one farmer that did not sit in the dark.
Getting the house off the grid has been a learning experience. He spent a lot of time on the Internet getting information and then contacting people directly to find out the best way to set up his solar system.
He watched the solar industry closely and when the cost got down to $1 per watt, he installed the panels and got the house off the grid.
The panels are very efficient. They produce 8,500 watts for the house and can produce 9,000 watts continuously. At the top end, the system can produce from 10,000 watts to 12,000 watts but only for about 30 minutes.
In the event the panels don't produce enough for their needs, he does have a backup generator if necessary. While the storm damage was being repaired, the greenhouses were kept on a generator.
The system is very efficient. In fact, it is overrated during the summer time but is just right in the winter.
The house isn't 100 percent off grid. Because of the electricity they pull, the clothes dryer, air conditioner compressor and the entertainment center are still plugged into the wall.
But for everything else in the house, the sun is the source of power. He looked at wind energy but it was two to three times the cost, Petrowsky said.
Two factors have a big impact on solar energy: night and clouds.
For that purpose, Petrowsky has lots of batteries that keep the house going when the sun goes down or the clouds roll in. After a recent lengthy cloudy period, the batteries were still at 75 percent capacity. Batteries last from seven to 10 years and are the most expensive part of the system.
In the winter when days are the shortest, he uses fluorescents from six to eight hours in December.
Besides feeding the house with all the electricity they need, the solar panels supply power to two green houses. The big green house is a whooping 30 feet by 90 feet. The south wall is a series of water coolers that are 20 feet long and four feet tall.
They lower the temperature in the greenhouse by 15 degrees and keep it at 65 to 70 percent humidity. He grows a lot of tomatoes plus a little eggplant, peppers and cucumbers.
His greenhouse works so well that he can produce 20 pounds of tomatoes in a week off just five plants. He sells the excess tomatoes to a local business and to farmers market customers and makes so much off tomatoes that the greenhouse pays for itself.
The exterior of the greenhouse is covered with polycarbonate, a very tough, clear product that can absorb a lot of punishment and remain intact.
A shade cloth is placed over the polycarbonate to help keep the green house from getting too hot. He also uses bug netting to help keep out insects and it works very well. The only thing that gets past it is spider mites.
Right now the big green house doesn't look too productive because everything is dead. In order to control mold, fungi, algae, mildew, disease, unwanted grass and insects, Petrowsky kills everything in the greenhouse in a process called sterilization.
While cleansing the greenhouse Petrowsky will replace the outer covering that was damaged in the storm. Although the material is tough, hail can still cause holes.
Petrowsky, who was a nuclear engineer in Illinois, found it a challenge to understand everything he needed to know about greenhouses. He made extensive use of the Internet and established contacts in the industry that became friends and remain so today.
Helping him through this process was his wife Lisa.
"I couldn't have done it without her," Ed said.
Petrowsky is a farmer by trade and has wheat to plant and corn and soybeans to cut. Everything is under irrigation. He participated in the tractor drive to Topeka in 1977 and was one of a group of four farmers that sued the United States government for failure to obey the law.
Even with all this, Petrowsky is starting another venture. He and a friend are starting E&P Upland Hunting, a quail and pheasant hunting service he started with friend Shawn Ernest.