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Gerry Palano

Gerry Palano

Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency Coordinator, Department of Agricultural Resources

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Jess Cook, Berkshire of Pioneer RC&D (BPRC&D), program manager for our Massachusetts Farm Energy Program and Devon Whitney-Deal of Communities Involved with Sustainable Agriculture (CISA) contributed to this post. The Farm Energy Program is a collaboration of BPRC&D and DAR helping to provide technical and financial assistance for farms across Massachusetts.

On the evening of August 22 at Crossroads Farm in Ashfield, a crowd of more than 20 neighborhood farmers and agricultural producers gathered for a solar thermal workshop hosted by the Massachusetts Farm Energy Program and CISA. This workshop highlighted the practical farm use of solar hot water, current funding opportunities for solar thermal, and what steps farmers should take to installing a solar thermal system.

Solar thermal – solar heated air or water – is a practical technology with a proven lifespan and range of applications for farms (in addition to residential and commercial uses). Depending on the system used, water heated by the sun can reach between 140-170 degrees Fahrenheit. At those temperatures the water can be used for farm facility cleaning; farm housing and kitchens; food processing; aquaculture; space heating via radiant floors in farm offices, shops, packing sheds, or milking parlors; or under-bench or soil heating in greenhouses.

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To determine if a solar thermal system is appropriate for their needs, farmers’ learned to evaluate several factors including: the volume of water needed to heat; if the season of energy production need matches the highest production period for solar energy in the summer; and what the target temperature is for air or water.

If you’re considering solar hot water, this is a great time to move ahead! The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) launched a Commercial Solar Hot Water Program, which commits funding resources for solar thermal plans (pre-design studies) and construction rebates. The studies are useful for farms that need heat for radiant floors, greenhouse heating or yogurt-making.

Solar thermal projects are also eligible for the Federal Business Investment Tax Credit or Treasury Cash Option worth 30 percent of the solar thermal system installation cost. (The Cash Option expires this December 31, 2011.)

Here are some tips to get started. 

  • Learn more about the technology and establish your current and future farm heating needs by reviewing your energy bills and speaking with installing contractors service providers.
  • Talk with installers – request an on-site assessment, consider equipment options, and talk through costs and payback periods.
  • Read up on MassCEC resources and funding support.
  • Inquire with your public utility regarding support for efficiency upgrades for existing heating systems using electricity or natural gas.

Please contact our Massachusetts Farm Energy Program for assistance moving from project concept to implementation, and ask to be placed on our waiting list for a soon to be released copy of our guide for solar thermal use on farms, Massachusetts Farm Energy Best Management Practices!

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