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Traditional Vermont Family Farm Gets an Energy Update

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Gordon Richardson alongside some of his Jersey cows
Photo credit: Jenevra Wetmore

Source: Jenevra Wetmore, EAN/Middlebury College Internship Program

Take aways:

- Invest in solar and save money

- Solar can power whole businesses

- Involve the entire family

The Richardson Farm, operated in partnership by Gordon and his sons Scott and Reid Richardson, has been in the family since their ancestors bought the land in 1905. The dairy farm has over 100 Jersey cows, but for years has also been diversified, making and selling maple syrup and split-rail fencing.  

But since October 2015, the Richardsons can claim another product made on-site: solar energy.  Gordon and his wife Pat attended a solar open house that, according to Pat, "inspired us".  They looked at the pros and cons of different companies and decided to hire Catamount Solar.

Finding the Energy to Power a Farm

The Richardson Farm uses electricity to milk cows, light barns, pump water, and run reverse osmosis machines used in the maple sugaring operation, among other things.  The Richardson's contractor, Catamount Solar, installed 169 panels on three buildings to meet these energy needs. The majority of the panels are on the free stall barn where the cows are housed. The barn’s roof is a perfect spot, as it is south facing with a good angle for the panels to pick up the most sunlight. According to Catamount, the system has a 43.94 kW capacity.

Keeping it in the Family

Over 60 percent of the energy collected from the solar panels goes toward powering the farm—the remaining energy powers family members’ three houses nearby. Every house's Green Mountain Power electric bill is credited with a percentage of the solar electricity not used for the farm, according to its past yearly use of electricity. The farm currently has a credit of $480, which means that the system has produced more electricity than it has used. The credit will continue building during the summer months in preparation for the next sugaring season.

Saving Money

Each homeowner receives a 30 percent federal tax credit, both for partner homes and for the partner’s share in the farm. After eight or nine years the system should have paid for its installation, after which the electricity will be virtually free for the remainder of the 25-year warranty period. There is space to install more panels if needed, but right now the entire system is earning energy credits and meets the needs of the farm and family houses. Gordon put it best when he said, “it’s a long-term investment that seems to make sense and at the same time does a good thing for the environment.”

Invest in solar to reduce emissions and save money.  And, if you’re like the Richardsons, you might get the whole family involved.