Green farm also grows energy

Visitors to Waterpenny Farm may notice a new addition has cropped up among the fruits and vegetables already for sale: brand new solar panels now adorn the roof of the equipment barn.

Waterpenny Farm, located in Sperryville, is run by Rachel Bynum and Eric Plaksin, who say they always intended to add solar panels to the farm. “We’ve always been interested in having some solar panels,” said Bynum in a newsletter. “And when we built our house in 2004, we faced it south partly so we could have solar panels on the roof one day.”

Sam Cochrane of Sperryville hoists a solar panel over his head before installing it on the roof of the equipment barn at Waterpenny Farm. Photo by Rachel Bynum.
Sam Cochrane of Sperryville hoists a solar panel over his head before installing it on the roof of the equipment barn at Waterpenny Farm. Photo by Rachel Bynum.

Their plans changed slightly after consulting Sam Cochrane of Renewable Energy Solutions Inc. Cochrane took a look at the farm and said he believed the panels would be better suited to the equipment barn, rather than the house. The barn’s roof is much bigger and could, Cochrane told them, hold enough solar panels to generate around 90 percent of the total energy used on the farm, including the barn and greenhouse.

To date, 24 panels have been installed, with half supplying most of the power to the farm, and the other half powering the owners’ home. The system is still tied to the regular power grid though, meaning that if the power goes out, the panels will shut down. However, that sort of connection allows Bynum and Plaksin to send more power than they use during summer, and receive credit for that extra power in the winter when it’s really needed.

Thanks to a USDA grant available to farms, Bynum and Plaksin will end up paying roughly half the cost of the installation. The grant is part of the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which focuses on helping agricultural producers and rural small businesses purchase and install renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency improvements in rural areas. Solar panels are just one of several improvements covered by REAP.

Despite the hefty price tag though, Bynum believes the panels will actually pay for themselves in 10 years, and will ideally last another 20 after that. Bynum said the investment just makes sense for the farm. “As a business, it makes our organic farm more sustainable since now all the power for coolers, lights and greenhouse operations comes from the sun.”

Since April, the panels have generated 1.5 megawatts of power from the sun, with more surely still to come. With so many installed and working, the future of Waterpenny Farm is looking bright.

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