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Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 7/3/2019 6:21:50 PM

Since its inception, Sun Moon Farm has run on a community-supported model. By the end of this year, it may have a new community-supported crop – solar energy.

In a project headed by the Cheshire County Conservation District, by this fall Sun Moon Farm could host a 95-kilowatt ground array which would generate power not only for Sun Moon Farm but for other agricultural pursuits around the region.

“We had been very interested in a community-supported solar model to benefit farms in the region,” Amanda Littleton, the district manager for the Cheshire County Conservation District, said Wednesday. “Electricity costs can be so high for farms, particularly if they have things like greenhouses, cooling systems, dairy farms or maple syrup operations. This could be a great way to improve profitability and viability for farms as a business.”

In March, the Cheshire County Conservation District and the Monadnock Sustainability Network held a series of meetings and invited local farmers to attend to learn about the possible benefits of purchasing a share in the solar project. 

Craig and Megan Jensen of Sun Moon Farm in Rindge attended one of those meetings, and expressed interest in hosting the projects, Littleton said. 

The array, installed by ReVision Energy, will go on two pieces of land that are currently not being used for agricultural purposes on the farm. 

Like with the concept of community-supported agriculture, community-supported solar works on a pay-up-front model. 

Farmers can purchase electricity shares for $4,800 for 5,000 annual kilowatt-hours, either in a lump sum or on an agreed-upon payment schedule. For the first six years, the array is in operation, the farmer will receive electricity at a discount of 20 percent compared to their current rates. And after that, electricity will be free for the life of the system, which is likely to be 25 years or more.

“Which is a long time to not have to pay for electricity,” Littleton said. “We’re hoping this will be a benefit to farms, particularly if they have greenhouses, cooling systems, maple syrup operations or dairy farms, which require a lot of energy.”

John Kondos, the director of the Monadnock Sustainability Network, a partner in the project, said he knows the model works because his organization did a similar project with the Monadnock Food Co-Op a few years ago.

“It was a great success. This is going to be a big win for farmers,” Kondos said. 

Littleton said the project is still looking for investors to purchase energy shares. Of the 24 shares available, about half have been sold so far, she said. Hoping to begin installing the array in the fall, the Cheshire County Conservation District will spend the summer looking for additional investors. 

Kondos said energy is a sector in which there are not a lot of ways to control your costs. While switching to sustainable energy is one of them the upfront costs of installing a system are a blockade for farmers with small operations.

“The whole precept is based off getting a solar system for those who might not be able to afford it otherwise,” Kondos said. “Energy is an area where you don’t have a lot of control over the costs unless you do something like install a sustainable energy system. Solar makes so much sense. There’s no reason why everyone shouldn’t be able to have access to it.”

Farmers interested in purchasing solar power shares should contact Amanda Littleton at amanda@cheshireconservation.org.

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.



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