Delaware’s only electric cooperative is encouraging its agricultural members to use a new state grant program to upgrade their irrigation systems from diesel to electric power.

“Electric-powered irrigation pivots are cheaper to operate and maintain than diesel systems and have less of an impact on the environment,” said Bill Andrew, president and CEO of Delaware Electric Cooperative . “This new program will allow Delawareans to breathe cleaner air and will also help to lower the cost for farmers to irrigate their crops.”

The Delaware Department of Agriculture worked with the co-op to develop a program designed to help offset some of the conversion costs and reduce diesel system use.

“By replacing them with more energy-efficient electrical systems, there will be a decrease in carbon emissions, thereby improving air quality,” said Michael T. Scuse, the state’s agriculture secretary. “The conversion will help to increase farmers’ long-term profitability and the ability to utilize smart technology.”

The program requires a minimum commitment of five years to the Greenwood-based co-op’s load control program. Electric irrigation equipment can save farmers 18% to 25% on average on their power bill during the annual irrigation season, according to co-op officials.

Under the program, the co-op commits the first $5,000 to cover up to half the costs of extending three-phase wiring to service pedestals connected to variable frequency drive irrigation heads used to water crops. The balance of the connection costs is shared equally between the co-op and the irrigator. The state is providing additional funding capped at $5,000 per system, which can be used for purchases of electric irrigation components.

The program is available to agricultural producers served by Delaware EC who meet a load threshold of 20 kilowatts of overall demand.

“We have over 2,000 commercial irrigators in our service territory and many of them use diesel-driven systems,” said Kevin Yingling, Delaware Electric Cooperative’s manager of business development and energy services. “Converting them to electric power is an opportunity for the co-op to pick up additional load, and electricity is much cleaner and better for the environment than diesel.”

The co-op joined the state agriculture department in announcing the program in early October to give farmers an opportunity to participate during their off-season and provide time for engineering, equipment purchases and installation, Yingling said. “They can work with their irrigation dealers over the winter, which is a typically slower time for them, so everything can be up and ready for next year's irrigating season.”