October 2015 Renewable Energy Farm Walks – Broad Leaf Farm and Tahoma Farms

Solar Energy on the Farm I
Broad Leaf Farm
Everson, WA (Whatcom County)

Solar Energy on the Farm II
Tahoma Farms
Orting, WA (Pierce County)

Tilth Producers teamed up with Northwest Sustainable Energy for Economic Development (Northwest SEED) to bring our community a series of farm walks focused on renewable energy, supported by an Environmental Justice Grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Northwest SEED is a Seattle-based organization that works to create communities that are powered by locally controlled clean energy solutions. They do this by providing technical assistance, education, advocacy, and implementation of clean energy projects. This exciting partnership with Northwest SEED kicked off with two farm walks in October, with each emphasizing the use of solar energy on the farm.

At both farm walks, Mia Devine, Northwest SEED Project Manager, presented on the effects of climate change within agriculture, how renewable energy sources can help mitigate climate change, and the benefits of renewable energy. She also provided the details on finding funding and taking advantage of incentive programs to pay for solar installation. Such programs and incentives include the USDA Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), federal tax credits, Washington Solar Production Incentive, and MACRS Depreciation. Overall, Mia explained that if a farmer were to take advantage of all programs and incentives (plus account for the energy they are not purchasing), the cost of their system would be 65-75% off after year one. Amazing! Also in attendance at both farm walks was Shannon Ellis-Brock of Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union who spoke to their Energy Smart Loans, low-interest loans for solar projects up to $35,000. She was extremely helpful and succinct in outlining the benefits for both the farmer and the regional economy to locally finance a solar project.

The first of the farm walks was held at Broad Leaf Farm in Everson (Whatcom County). Owned and operated by Dusty and Leslie Williams, this 10 acre, certified organic farm utilizes a 8.6 kW solar electric system which supplies about 25% of the farm’s electricity needs. Dusty always played around with the notion of solar-power and utilized an off-grid system in the 1970’s. When he learned of the availability of incentives through Mia Devine, Northwest SEED Project Coordinator and fellow Whatcom Co. farmer, Dusty made the investment, having his system installed by EcoTech Solar, a Bellingham based company, in 2014. Dana Brandt, founder of EcoTech, was in attendance and presented on the basics of solar terminology, the basics of a photo-voltaic system, site requirements, installation, and cost variables. Since he help Dusty with his system, Dana was able to speak directly to the process used to assess the site, determine the size of the array needed, and see the system through its installation.

Also in attendance at Broad Leaf, was Jeff Aslan, Energy Program Manager of Sustainable Connections (a non-profit based in Whatcom Co.), who spoke about the various services they offer to increase energy efficiencies in the region. This includes providing energy assessments for businesses – including farms! – to help them understand their energy usage and create goals around obtaining renewable energy systems. After attendees were able to see the general set-up of his solar array, Dusty took attendees on a short tour around his farm, a portion of which he leases to young farmers. It was great to see how Broad Leaf is utilizing renewable energy and also providing space for the next generation of farmers!

The second farm host was Tahoma Farms near Orting (Pierce County). Farmer owners Dan and Kim Hulse greeted everyone to their certified organic farm, which in years past was a large dairy operation. The farm itself is on land secured through the PCC Farmland Trust as a conservation easement. Between their organic production practices and mission to preserve farmland, it was no surprise that Dan made the decision to install a large solar array a-top one of the old livestock barns. To speak to the installation of Tahoma’s particular array, Chris Brooks, Project Manager for Sun’s Eye Solar based in Tacoma, was in attendance to explain all of the inner workings. Besides explaining the basic terminology and system set-ups, Chris essentially sold everyone on the use of micro inverters. Afterwards, Dan and Kim took everyone on a tour of their farm – namely their wash stations and packing shed.

Overall, both farm walks were very informative on the steps farmers can take to obtain solar on their farm. Further, they proved that solar energy systems perform well in Western Washington with plenty of local manufacturers and installers to choose from. So don’t let the dreary days of winter fool you into thinking that it’s not possible to install and utilize a solar array of your own.

To view the farm walk booklet for Broad Leaf Farm, click here.

To view the farm walk booklet for Tahoma Farms, click here. 

Summary by Angela Anegon. 

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These farm walks provided in partnership with Northwest Sustainable Energy for Economic Development (NW SEED) with support from an Environmental Justice Grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.