Energy Self-Reliance

By Dennis Lehmann | Jun 14, 2021

The following article was featured in the Freeman Courier in June 2021

Turning onto the gravel driveway one’s eyes immediately gravitate to the roof of the two story house. Twenty four solar panels cover the south side of the house and attached garage, which were installed eight years ago. In addition there are many south facing windows to catch the low angle of the winter sun . The back of the bottom story faces north and is buried in dirt for insulation.

East of the house stands a 7500 watt wind turbine atop a 100 foot tower. It was erected 11 years ago and is hinged near the base for easy maintenance access.

Dennis and Priscilla in their driveway
Dennis and Priscilla Jurkovich stand in the driveway of their house covered in solar panels.

Priscilla and Dennis Jurkovich moved from Colorado to the countryside near Dolton, SD in 2006 and have been at their present location since 2008. Priscilla has a previous connection to Freeman when her parents relocated there. Her father was pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in the 1970’s while she was away at college.

Dennis and Priscilla were high school sweethearts in Cleveland, Ohio. They have two children and five grandchildren. Dennis used to work for IBM as an engineer writing computer software and is now retired. Priscilla is an RN. Her latest job was working at Sanford’s integrated health program. She continues to be on an active call list to see patients and teach classes.

Entering the bottom story of their house led to a room containing 12 large batteries which are hooked up to the wind generator and solar panels. An inverter allows the use of electrical appliances. Dennis says the wind and sun meet approximately 60% of their electrical needs. They are also hooked up to the grid for backup electricity and use propane for winter heat.

Dennis shared some thoughts about what motivates them to seek alternative energy. Dennis talked about having a degree of self-reliance and food insurance. Many farmers have gasoline generators for backup power when the electric grid is down. Wind and solar are another type of generator that does not need gasoline. The people of Texas found out the importance of backup power this past winter. Many lost the food in their freezers when the electricity was off for days. The Jurkovich’s have solar and wind to protect them during power outages, to protect their food supply and keep them warm in cold weather. Dennis sees solar and wind as a type of investment like farm land. Both take a long time to recover the initial investment. Unlike farm land which has a yearly tax cost, solar and wind have tax benefits. Currently federal income tax rules allow a 22% tax credit for the costs of installing wind or solar. This is a tax credit not a tax deduction which can be carried over multiple years. A farmer who has had a good year could invest in wind or solar and subtract 22% of the cost from his income tax. The renewable energy 22% credit expires this year unless Congress extendeds it. Also, South Dakota will not increase your property tax for improving your property by installing wind and solar.

One nice feature about solar power is that you can start small and build up. Home Depot has various size kits to get started. A kit can be sized to run one appliance or to charge a phone or computer. After getting comfortable with solar, the system can be expanded.

Of course the Jurkovich’s have shelter belts north and west of the house, plus a large garden and 18 chickens for eggs and to keep the grasshoppers under control. One year ago Dennis started 3 bee hives which quickly became four when one hive swarmed. The couple love watching the increased activity of the bees as the weather warms. Now that the dandelions are blooming their pollen sacs are loaded with rich orange pollen as they enter the hives.

Dennis and Priscilla with their bee hive
Dennis and Priscilla Jurkovich pose beside one of their bee hives.

The Jurkovich’s are both Master Gardeners and Priscilla writes a monthly column on herbs for the Minnehaha Master Gardens newsletter. Yes, she does have an herb garden and makes tinctures for medicinal and healthy living use. I got to sample some of her homemade kombucha. She bottles the drink which is made from different fruits. It can have a mild or strong vinegar taste and is naturally fizzy. The mulberry kombucha was very tasty, made from the trees they planted in their shelter belt.

Dennis and Priscilla stand out as unique people as you drive past their place. Their self reliance extends from the obvious solar panels and wind generator, to their chickens, bee hives, garden, wind breaks, fruit trees and passive solar house.

Any visitor will come away richer with the knowledge they generously share.