Provides Multiple Layers of Sustainability
When its 178kW solar electric system went online in November, Sunset Lake Farm owner Sam Bellavance was returning to his clean energy roots to boost the sustainability of his family’s dairy farm. Before becoming project manager of the farm, the 24-year-old Bellavance worked for the DC Sustainable Energy Utility in Washington, DC and as a solar installer in Vermont.
For Bellavance, sustainability means more than just green living. It also involves the long-term viability of his dairy farm by limiting risks to the operation brought on by a host of factors, one of which is unpredictable energy costs and future availability. Another is ensuring a reliable source of water and ample land to grow fodder for his medium-sized Vermont dairy.
Bellavance said that although he received offers to install methane digesters or wind turbines on his land, solar photovoltaic (PV) was a better fit. “Time is a farmer’s most valuable commodity and solar doesn’t take up the time to operate that a digester would, or the space required for commercial wind. Because we have a barn engineered to withstand New England’s snow load, rooftop solar made a lot more sense. And we didn’t have to use valuable farm land,” he said.
Sunset Lake Farm is a member of the 360-farm St. Albans Cooperative Creamery as well as Ben & Jerry’s Caring Dairy Program. The Caring Dairy Program helps more than 70 farmers in the program to evaluate their sustainability, while helping them develop and implement improvement plans for creating a sustainable future for dairy. Adding a clean energy system helped Sunset Lake earn a Gold Rating in the program. “Financial incentives provided by the Ben & Jerry’s program to make our farm more sustainable were rolled back into the farm and allowed us to go forward with our solar project,” Bellavance said. “This is making a difference.”
The PV system Norwich Solar Technologies installed on Sunset Lake’s dry cow barn will provide long-term energy savings and stability. The newly-constructed barn has 18,000 square feet of unshaded and low-angled space for optimal solar electricity production. Additionally, the solar PV array will help shield the metal roof from the elements and extend its life.
Bellavance added, “The way solar produces peak power mid-year matches perfectly the cycle of when a dairy farm uses the most power. Peak consumption is a hot July day, and with ventilation fans running nonstop at full speed there are significant energy costs.” Solar power will cut his Alburgh power bills by two-thirds. “Federal and state tax incentives and a USDA REAP grant cut my out-of-pocket cost dramatically,” said Bellavance.
Sunset Lake’s PV system is expected to produce 195,555 kWh per year, enough to cover the energy costs for the milking parlor and fresh cow barn. Other sustainability attributes include offsetting about 8,900,000 lbs. of CO2, the equivalent of planting 102,483 trees or 9,204,000 miles not driven over 25 years.
Bellavance says solar also gives him more choices for future operations at the farm such as greenhouses, kilns, or cheese-making.