Sam Zuckerman, the president of Maine Solar Solutions, has shared another interesting solar installation with us. It is at Pooh Corner Farm, a garden center and florist in Mason Township, Maine.
Mason Township is not a large community. There are only about sixty people who live there. It is not far from Bethel, in western Maine’s Oxford County. Pooh Corner Farm is rather remote, but that has not prevented the business from thriving. Anyone who talks with Carole Duplessis, its interesting and friendly owner, might very easily understand why.
Duplessis started the garden center in 1984 on a property of about a hundred acres. She began by selling vegetable starts from seeds she had planted. She and her husband, Richard, put up their first buildings, and the business grew. Now it has five greenhouses and a garden center.
A business of this type can consume a surprising amount of electricity. Greenhouses need water, pumped from wells, but they also need to be ventilated to keep from overheating. While many people understand that pumps use a lot of energy, we might not see how fans do. These are not the fans you plug into the wall and clip to the side of your desk. A hint about their size can be taken from the fact that they use 220-volt current. They move a lot of air, and every greenhouse needs to be ventilated.
Duplessis has long been interested in saving energy. She told us, “In the beginning, we used halogen lights. My electric bill was more than some people pay for rent.” She switched to LEDs, and that helped a lot, but there were still those fans and pumps.
A few years back, she got to the point that she decided to do something about the power problem and started looking for a solar installer. Shopping around for prices, she found Maine Solar Solutions and soon realized that she had found what she wanted.
After reviewing the site, loads, and special needs, Zuckerman concluded that the ground-mount system Duplessis had been offered by other installers was not the best approach. Instead, he suggested a system with the photovoltaic panels mounted on trackers, which would always be pointing directly at the sun. Three AllEarth Renewables trackers would be used, each holding 24 Q-Cell panels. With each panel capable of delivering 300 watts, the capacity of the whole system is 21.6 kilowatts.
“Three trackers took up a lot less real estate than ground mounts,” Zuckerman told us. “The ground mounts would have taken 100 panels. The system would have been 140 feet long.” The tracking system also has other advantages. For example, trackers are designed to survive bad storms by holding their panels horizontally, in the position least susceptible to damage.
The Pooh Corner Farm solar array was financed in part with a Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Duplessis commented on this, noting that the process of getting the grant could have been daunting. She had high praise for the help she got from Maine Solar Solutions, without which she might not have received the grant at all.
Zuckerman said his takeaway on USDA grants of this type is that a lot of businesses could benefit from them. The grants are available for many situations. In particular, he pointed out that many people do not realize that their businesses might qualify, often because they believe REAP grants for rural areas are not available in the places where they live. Depending on the grant, businesses in communities that are as large as 50,000 might be able to get them. The grant structures are complicated, but information is readily available at local USDA offices, and good solar installers can often help.
Maine Solar Solutions, LLC is near the town of Freeport, Maine, not far north of Portland. The web site is mainesolarsolutions.com.
Pooh Corner Farm’s web site is poohfarm.com.