Solar for the Sustainable Farm: Paradise Gardens and Farm Realizes Savings with PV and Solar Hot Water
Located in Reynoldsville, PA, Paradise Gardens and Farm is Jefferson County’s first and only certified organic farm and Northwest Pennsylvania’s first licensed goat dairy/creamery. Owners Lucinda Hart-Gonzalez and Stephen Cleghorn (along with their canine companions Wyatt and Bella) are surrounded by 50 bucolic acres of fields, pastures, henhouses, barn and goat dairy, greenhouses, and raised beds, all of which are managed without chemicals.
The community-oriented couple advocates for peace, environmental stewardship, and an end to homelessness. They are also very much interested in reducing the carbon footprint on their farm. As such, energy conservation was always a priority.
Lucinda recalls, “When we first moved to the farm in 2005, our intention was always to be energy-conscious and to move to renewable green energy as part of our development of an organic farm. The need became critical when we began our goat dairy/creamery with its high energy demands.”
She continues, “We chose solar over wind for a few reasons. First, we would have had to install wind turbines high on our hill far from the barn where the energy would be used, creating long lines that could be the source of breaks and interruptions. Second, wind turbines have moving parts, so they must be maintained either by climbing the towers or by bringing them periodically down with the tractor. As we are now in our 60s, the prospect of regular, perhaps increasing maintenance as we aged did not seem practical.”
An energy survey of Paradise Gardens and Farm’s needs for energy helped Lucinda and Stephen identify areas of high energy use:
- Milk room (bulk tank chilling/fan, washing/sanitizing, CIP (pump), lights, summer fan)
- Pasteurizing and cheese making (temperature probes, air space heater, agitator motor, water heater pump, water heater, water)
- Creamery (UV water filter, computer and modem, lights, radiant heat in winter, air conditioning in summer, as well as 2-3 refrigerators for storing and aging)
- Produce shed (2 refrigerators, 1 chest freezer)
Areas of medium energy use included Packing (for a scale and vacuum packer, Barn (ventilation fan, LCD lights, pumping water to hydrant), and the Sales Shed (display cooler, doorbell monitor, cash register, occasional lights).
Lucinda says, “The real clincher came when we found Envinity listed on the PA Sunshine Program webpage, and they came out to do an assessment of our needs. Envinity recognized that we would be an ideal site for solar because so much of our energy use was hot water — for washing and sanitizing dairy and creamery equipment, for pasteurizing milk, and in winter, for the radiant heat that keeps the concrete floor from cracking. Envinity pointed out that half of our power could come from solar hot water heating directly, rather than converting to electricity to then heat the water. Solar thermal had not occurred to us and we loved the idea.”
In the fall of 2009, Paradise Farm received a PA Sunshine Grant, which paved the way for Stephen and Lucinda to install a solar electric and solar thermal system. Their plan was to generate the equivalent of 24 megawatts of energy and hot water to run all of their farm operations, and also contribute some electricity back to the public grid so that they could provide power to their community.
Lucinda and Stephen partnered with Envinity, an energy services firm focused on energy efficiency, renewable energy, and energy management located in State College, PA.
Envinity performed the following services:
- Conducted an energy analysis
- Designed the system
- Applied for tax credits
- Installed the solar PV system
- Installed the solar hot water system
- Provided service for the systems
In April of 2010, the solar installation was completed and brought online.
Ten solar thermal panels provide the BTU equivalent of 12 megawatts of power in water heating for dairy washing and sanitizing, pasteurizing, and heating. In addition, forty-eight photovoltaic panels provide 12 megawatts of electric power for running equipment, lights, and refrigeration.
The results have been dramatic. Lucinda says, “During the dairy season, our electric bills are 1/10 of what they were and are more than compensated by SRECs.” She estimates that they will be able to pay off system in 4 years. After that, they’ll generate an annual $10K income from the system. She paraphrases, “We are energy farmers.”
Lucinda and Stephen are thrilled to be using clean energy for Paradise Gardens and Farm. Although they acknowledge that in some areas related to energy conservation, there is still room for improvement, Lucinda summarizes their experience with solar on the farm: “Was it worth it? Absolutely.”