A Farmer’s Tan…

As I look at my drone photo of our new ground solar array, the shape like an arm, it reminds me of my wife lovingly teasing me about my farmer’s tan, my arms darkened by hard work under the sun, yet my shirt blocking the rays completely, like the panels shading the grass. Our new solar array is engineered to maximize (hence the shape) the harvest of the sun’s rays on our New England hillside that was formed by glaciers, only letting reflected light get to the grass below. With shallow soils and exposed ledge, it was a wonderful sledding hill for me and generations of Bishop children, even when Christmas trees grew there! But now we’re growing kWh – kilowatt hours- that will displace fossil fuels to power about 80% of our farm’s annual electric usage, and power our Electric Vehicle (EV) chargers that are free for public use via our installation agreement with CT DEEP.

My passion for agriculture has shaped my life, not only to provide a livelihood, but continue our forefather’s stewardship, provide locally produced food, innovate as we grow, serve our community and raise our family. Adopting and adapting to change has helped us to survive and remain in farming. Guilford’s very rural character and scores of farms by the 1950’s has diminished greatly. Vertical marketing, transformation, refrigeration and storage of our crops takes more energy. Our Energy Efficiency programs in 2009 and 2016 helped to decrease our usage. But we needed to do more! Enter our renewable energy investigation for roof and ground solar.

The roof solar was straight forward. Put on 3 new roofs, then add solar panels! The green metal roof installed in 2014 was solar ready, and 2 flat roofs were replaced in 2016 and 2017 to be ready for the summer 2017 roof solar install by Independence Solar and Munger Construction. 381 panels went live on Aug 14, 2017.

I didn’t want to displace productive farmland to produce additional solar power. We needed over an acre. It needed to be close to a major 3 phase utility line. And prior to 2014, the solar power had to be delivered behind the utility meter, and could not be transported across a public right of way, even if owned by the same farm business. Virtual Net Metering (VNM) was approved by the CT legislature and PURA decisions in 2014, so agriculture could produce renewable power in one location and ‘pay’ to move it thru the utility grid from the host location to the beneficial account where the power is needed. Our VNM application was submitted in May 2016, and received regulatory approval in November 2016. Concurrently I competitively bid for a ZEREC (Zero Emissions Renewable Energy Credit Program) award from Eversource, and applied to the US Dept. of Agriculture for REAP funding to insure the ground solar would be financially feasible.

We received 8 responses to our request for proposals, and chose Independence Solar and Munger Construction for the work once all approvals were received. The construction proceeded on schedule, with fantastic cooperation by all our contractors and Eversource to make our deadline and start generation on December 29, 2017! Mounted on 1.1 acres are 1108 Panels in 17 rows. The roof array on our Farm Market, has 381 panels. The combined systems are 477 kW DC (366 kW DC) and are expected to produce 596,700 kWh per year, 80% of our farm’s typical usage.

Based upon prudent financial projections, in 8 years the solar investment will be paid for, I’ll be retired and my children, the 6th Generation will be continuing the stewardship, growing and farming of our 313 acres, supported by a great community and thousands of family visits to enjoy our slice of heaven.

Want to see what the solar power is now? Click here for live stats.