Low Energy Precision Application Irrigation Assistance Program


Prepared by:   Jack Jenkins, Denver Regional Office, January 11, 2001

                        303 275 4824





Improved irrigation technologies and management practices, collectively known as Low Energy Precision Application (LEPA) irrigation, have consistently provided up to 40% savings of both electricity and water.  This is significant because in many Western states, agriculture accounts for 75 to 85 percent of all water usage.  Also, irrigators demand electricity during the summer when loads are greatest within the Western Interconnection.  Irrigation demand characteristically has a high load factor.  For these reasons, irrigators are extremely vulnerable to potential price increases that could be caused by electricity supply shortages and the move to competitive electricity markets.


Energy savings from LEPA result from lower required pumping pressure and precision application of water, both spatially and over time. The Denver Regional Office currently has a NICE3 (DOE industrial program) project in eastern Colorado to help demonstrate and further commercialize these and other precision agricultural techniques and management practices. The program goal is to lead commercial farmers to switch to the newer, energy efficient technologies and management practices.


The NICE3 demonstration project could be expanded to other states through a below-market interest rate loan program or a revolving loan program.  These programs would assist farmers and ranchers to finance and economically capitalize their transition to more efficient, lower-energy irrigation systems. The up-front costs of converting existing irrigation systems to more efficient ones is the primary barrier most farmers confront.


States could employ Universal Systems Benefits Funds, Petroleum Violation Escrow Account monies, government bond proceeds or appropriations to underwrite the programs costs.  States might want to review other public policies, such as declining cost block rates for irrigators and existing water rights laws, to determine whether they discourage energy and water efficiency and may consider appropriate changes to them.


Savings and Cost:


A typical center pivot irrigation machine irrigates approximately 128 acres and, in Colorado, carries a seasonal energy cost, using pre-2001 electricity rates, of $8,400.  To convert a typical center pivot to LEPA hardware costs about $15,000.  Twelve years of record keeping on conversions to LEPA by Y-W Well Testing of Yuma, Colorado, and the State Natural Resources Conservation Board has shown a typical payback period based on energy savings alone of three to four years.



Our current demonstration project has been funded for three years.  In year-2000, the hardware was installed and tested under operational conditions.  Production demonstration, data-gathering and integrated software development will begin in Spring 2001.  A below market interest rate loan program or revolving loan program could be designed and operated within 12 to 18 months.  Equipment installation could be completed within 3 to 4 months of financing.





The U.S. Department of Energy’s Denver Regional Office, the Colorado Office of Energy Conservation, and a partnership comprised of Valmont International, the world's largest manufacturer of mechanical-move irrigation systems, and the Colorado Corn Growers Administrative Committee are prepared to assist any state in replicating this program.



Similar existing programs:


The Bonneville Power Administration, the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana and various electricity cooperatives in the Pacific Northwest have operated energy efficient irrigation assistance programs. All were, however, much more limited in scope and were not designed to integrate overall management and technologies into precision agriculture.