Energy - Small Farm Sustainability

2005 Annual Report for LNE02-163

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2002: $88,548.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $43,941.00
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Nancy Nylen
CET (Center for Ecological Technology)

Energy - Small Farm Sustainability


“Energy & Small Farm Sustainability” helps implement energy conservation and renewable energy projects for farms primarily in Massachusetts, but also in eastern New York. We assist farmers in identifying and implementing cost-effective opportunities to save money, conserve energy, and increase production. CET developed a protocol to assess farms for potential use of renewable energy technologies. We work closely with interested farms to identify strategies to install renewable energy systems, including siting and sizing equipment and obtaining financing. CET sponsors farm tours and workshops about renewable energy to highlight ways that renewable energy can make sense for farmers seeking a more sustainable approach to agriculture. We also provide assistance to farms interested in installing monitoring equipment to track system performance and make data available on the internet for other farmers and the general public. Our initial target was dairy farms and orchards, but we have served other farmers as well.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Of the approximately 56 dairy farms and 16 orchards in the Berkshire area, 25 farms will have an energy efficiency assessment, including an analysis of existing energy end use and recommendations for conservation measures. Of those who receive an energy assessment, 25 farmers will install efficiency improvements with a 1-year payback; 5-10 farmers will make significant energy efficiency improvements and 3-5 farms will participate in a renewable energy resource assessment, which may require additional monitoring (e.g. wind capacity or sun power). Of those who are evaluated for renewable resource potential, 1-3 farms will install small-scale renewable demonstration projects.


Thus far, CET has provided program services to 33 farms in the region. Early on, we realized that our proposed performance targets were based on outdated information about the numbers of dairy farms in our region. We learned that there are approximately 35 dairy farms, and less than 10 orchards which is far fewer than the 56 dairy farms and 16 orchards in our original database. Based on the fact that there were fewer active farms in our region, we decided to focus on the farms in the Berkshire area, but also serve farms just outside our region (in eastern NY and western MA) as time and resources permitted. The following outlines progress in the areas of energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Energy Efficiency
In 2005, CET conducted energy efficiency assessments for Project Native in Housatonic and Brookfield Farm in Amherst. To-date, 22 farms have had an energy efficiency audit as part of this project. Project Native and Brookfield Farm both installed energy efficient lighting with a less than one-year payback. Each compact fluorescent bulb saves about $60 over the lifetime of the bulb. Project Native is estimated to save as much as $300-$350 as a result of lighting improvements and Brookfield Farm anticipates saving as much as $900. A total of 15 farms have installed energy efficiency improvements with a 1-2 year payback.

This year, four farms invested in significant energy efficiency improvements. Project Native and Howden Farm in Sheffield invested in air sealing. Sealing areas of air infiltration saves money on heating by making a tighter building envelope. Estimated savings for air sealing at each farm are $100 to $150 per year. Howden Farm is planning to insulate the back of the farmhouse in the next few months, depending on the availability of a contractor. Our energy auditor estimates that insulating the back of the farmhouse will save the farm about $500 per year in heating costs. At Brookfield Farm, the main improvements were shoring up the walk-in cooler doors, insulating under the cooler in an area that includes the root cellar ceiling, and keeping the compressor clean. Currently, the office at the farm is heated with an electric heater during the winter months. The farm is considering installing a wood stove in the office. In March 2005 the Jordan Dairy in Rutland installed a variable frequency drive for their milking equipment. In the first month of operation, Randy Jordan reported a $13/day savings, for a total savings of $390/month or $4,745 per year. In addition to energy savings, he noted better working conditions because the pump is much quieter. According to Randy, “it’s possible when the thing is running to work in the office where the equipment is and to talk on the phone (except when it’s on the wash cycle).” Each of these farms benefited from financial incentives from either the Massachusetts Electric Company (or in the case of Brookfield, the Western Massachusetts Electric Company). So far, a total of seven farms have made significant energy efficiency investments.

Renewable Energy
We are excited to report that CET reached its renewable energy performance targets!

Solar: Two farms are producing clean electricity from the sun, and a third is anticipated to come on line by the end of 2005! In May 2005, the first farm renewable energy demonstration project was installed. With CET’s assistance, Gould Farm in Monterey installed a 7.2 kW photovoltaic (PV) system on their Harvest Barn. CET helped with preliminary designs, cost estimates and identified a financing structure whereby the PV system will be owned by a third party (CSG Services) and Gould Farm will receive the solar electricity at a reduced cost. The 66 photovoltaic panels, made by Evergreen Solar of Marlborough, Massachusetts, provide electricity for the lights and refrigeration in the Harvest Barn. Performance is monitored and available on the Soltrex website: Since monitoring began, the system has generated over 3000 kwh of solar electricity.
Brookfield Farm in Amherst, MA installed a 3.8 kW solar electric system on their new barn. Brookfield Farm is a biodynamic community supported agriculture farm that serves over 600 members in Amherst and Boston. CET helped Brookfield Farm identify opportunities to reduce the energy load at the barn and also conducted an initial assessment of the solar possibilities. We helped Brookfield Farm locate a potential funding source (Massachusetts Technology Collaborative) to reduce the cost and provided assistance with the grant application. CET used SARE funds to help install monitoring equipment that will allow farmers and the general public access to data about the Brookfield solar electric system through a website:

Howden Farm in Sheffield is currently installing a 1 kW RWE Schott PV system The 4 ASE-300 (250 watt) panels will power drip irrigation for their pick-your-own raspberry and blueberry crops. Wiring for the farm’s solar powered drip irrigation system is now in place as is the concrete platform that will hold the ground-mounted PV system. The system may be large enough to power irrigation to a pumpkin field across the road. CET worked with John Howell, retired from University of Massachusetts Extension, to determine the drip irrigation needs and a solar installer, Berkshire Photovoltaic Services, to determine how to size the solar electric system to meet the pumping needs. CET was able to locate grant funds from the U.S. Department of Energy and an incentive from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative to reduce the overall cost of the system for the farm. In addition, CET is providing funding for the monitoring equipment that will allow farmers and the general public to access data about the electricity production at Howden Farm.

CET can provide photographs and news stories about the installed renewable energy systems at these farms. Information is also available on the CET website.

Two other farms received technical assistance to evaluate solar power for farm operations. CET worked with Wilder Brook Farm in Shelburne Falls, so that the farmer can construct a solar powered irrigation system for seedlings, when he is ready. In this case, a stand-alone (‘off grid’) system makes most sense. A solar water pumping system can have two different methods of storing energy: batteries, or an elevated reservoir (potential energy storage). The topography of the property lends itself to a water storage system. In the past, Wilder Brook used drip irrigation systems and determined that a volume of 250 gallons per day would be sufficient to meet the farm’s needs. This system would only be used in the spring. CET developed a detailed report with parts and specifications to guide the farm with its purchasing decisions. The system, as proposed, would cost between $1,200 and $3,025, depending on quality and availability parts.

CET also prepared a detailed analysis for Woven Roots Farm in Lee, MA when they expressed interest in using solar energy to power the ventilation system at their new greenhouse. Unfortunately, the use of solar panels was too expensive. However, CET was able to provide some guidance in terms of reducing the overall energy demands at the farm.

CET has offered 4 workshops that introduced solar energy to interested parties. Several farmers attended those workshops and at least one, Taft Farm, is interested in finding out more about solar energy after the Christmas season is over.

Wind: CET continued to provide assistance to the Hadala Farm in Adams, MA as they explored options for a commercial wind power site on their farm. CET researched several different scenarios to see if wind power could make sense at that location. We met with the Town of Adams to see if they might be interested in a “behind the meter” wind turbine that would be sited at the Hadala Farm and would power the town’s wastewater treatment plant. CET also made preliminary phone calls to Specialty Minerals, the largest electricity user in town (and not geographically far from the Hadala Farm) to see if a similar arrangement would be of interest to them. Both sites are close to the farm, but both require road crossings. CET met with a wind developer, Minuteman Wind, LLC, at the Hadala Farm. CET helped explain the preliminary wind assessment we had conducted for the site.

Due to a number of factors, including the projected wind resource and site limitations, Minuteman decided not to invest in monitoring and developing the site for a commercial wind farm. CET then worked with Hadala farm to contact Boreal Energy, a company that specializes in “behind the meter” wind development where the electricity generated by the wind turbine(s) is used on-site. When it was confirmed that the electrical demand at the Hadala Farm was relatively low, we once again discussed the possibility of selling the remaining electricity to a neighboring business with higher electrical demand such as the Adams wastewater treatment plant. Through discussions with Boreal, we learned that energy cannot be generated at a private residence or business and sold to another user. According to Sally Wright of the University of Massachusetts Renewable Energy Research Lab (RERL) and John Bzura of National Grid, the current net metering law in Massachusetts prohibits this “wheeling” of power. Family members at the Hadala Farm continue to be interested in pursuing wind as an option, and we have requested assistance from UMass RERL to install a monitoring tower on site so that we have more accurate information about the wind resource. RERL’s wind monitoring equipment is currently being used at other locations, but they are considering this request for the future.

Doug Burnett, a dairy farmer from Adams, MA, contacted CET at the end of 2004 because of his interest in producing wind energy at his farm. A cell tower recently installed on his land has road access that could be used for a wind turbine if installing a turbine was appropriate for the site. CET conducted an initial assessment of the wind resource based on property boundaries and Massachusetts wind resource maps. The site, which is adjacent to the Hadala Farm, was not considered appropriate for a commercial scale wind project, but might have some promise for small-scale (residential) wind production. We will continue to provide assistance as needed.

Howden Farm (currently installing a PV system) is also interested in the feasibility of wind power on their site. They have an old wind machine that used to pump water to the farm worker’s home. The propellers are long gone, but the tower remains. Bruce Howden attended the Small Wind workshop in November (see below) and we will continue to work with him evaluate the options.

Based on the interest expressed by Burnett and Howden and other large landowners in the region, CET decided to provide a workshop on small-scale wind energy to help farmers decide if this technology might be viable for their farms. The workshop was held in Pittsfield on November 29, 2005. Sally Wright of UMass RERL presented information about evaluating a site, current wind technology, costs and financial incentives. We sent notices out to all the farms in the region, inviting them to attend. Over 40 attended the workshop, although only one was from a farm. However, we now have good information to send to farmers who are interested in small-scale wind power.

Other renewables:
CET connected a developer who is interested in methane digestion with dairyman Louis Aragi of Sheffield, MA. Mr. Aragi had been interested in methane digestion for several years, but needed to build a new barn and make other changes on the farm first. We will follow up with Mr. Aragi in the spring to see if there has been any progress.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

CET has provided program services to 33 farms. Twenty-two farms have received an energy assessment. Thirteen farms have installed energy efficiency measures with less than a one-year payback. Seven farms have installed significant efficiency improvements. Fourteen farms received an in-depth renewable energy assessment. Two farms have installed photovoltaic systems and one farm is currently installing a photovoltaic system.

In preparing for this project, we assumed that a farm would move through a linear process beginning with an energy efficiency assessment and progressing to evaluate options for using renewable energy. In fact, we have found that farmers who have sought out efficiency improvements are not necessarily interested in renewable technologies and farmers interested in renewable energy may or may not be seeking assistance with efficiency improvements. Farmers interested in renewable energy seek us out, whereas we have had to do quite a bit of recruiting for energy efficiency assessments. Regardless of their interest in efficiency and/or renewable energy, the farmers have valued the combination of technical and financial assistance CET provides to help them install energy measures and systems.


Cathy Roth
UMass Extension
P.O. Box 296
Middlefield, MA 01243
Office Phone: 4136236053
Nick Hiza
Atlas Renewables Incorporated (wind)
P. O. Box 64
Williamstown, MA 01267
Office Phone: 4135974644
Ruth Dinerman
Communications Director
Center for Ecological Technology
112 Elm Street
Pittsfield, MA 01201
Office Phone: 4134454556
David Knowles
Energy Specialist
Center for Ecological Technology
112 Elm Street
Pittsfield, MA 01201
Office Phone: 4134454556
Amy Johns
AmeriCorps*VISTA/Energy Specialist
Center for Ecological Technology
112 Elm Street
Pittsfield, MA 01201
Office Phone: 4134454556
Chris Vreeland
Precision Engineering Services (solar)
P.O. Box 746
Otis, MA 01253
Office Phone: 4132694965
Richard Drury
RCS Energy Services (efficiency)
P.O. Box 433
Leverett, MA 01054
Office Phone: 4133679683