Energy/Energy Efficiency Coordinator, Department of Agricultural Resources
Anyone who thinks Friday the 13th is an unlucky day should have attended Carlson Orchards’ ribbon-cutting “solar-bration” on August 13, when the Harvard farm’s 220 kW ground-mounted solar photovoltaic (PV) system was unveiled. The largest agricultural PV system in the Commonwealth was generating electricity, as expected, on a beautiful Friday afternoon that featured a well organized and attended event involving state and federal officials, family and project team members, local residents and customers, children, and live music.
Carlson Orchards was founded in 1936 by Walter and Eleanor Carlson as a diversified farm raising chickens, cows, potatoes and apples. In the 1960’s, the 120-acre farm began specializing in fruits and berries and has been that way ever since. Annually, it produces over 60,000 bushels of apples, 5,000 baskets of peaches and nectarines, and over 500,000 gallons of apple cider – some of that now marketed to local schools in juice boxes. Pick-your-own blueberries, raspberries and pumpkins are also in the offering. The farm is now owned and operated by Walter and Eleanor’s three sons, Franklyn, Robert and Bruce, truly the most amiable and down-to-earth trio anyone could meet. The PV system is installed on a two-acre site of land where apple trees had eclipsed their useful life.
The Carlsons thought seriously about a PV energy project for the past couple of years, but Franklyn Carlson credits Symantha Gates, a professional consultant and founder of the consulting firm EC3 of Amherst, NH, for bringing it all together. Symantha and EC3 specialize in development and management of “green” projects such as Carlson’s. In parallel with the PV project, Carlson Orchards also implemented extensive energy efficiency measures, including complete replacement of the walk-in coolers’ refrigeration systems (the farm’s largest electrical load), and is in the process of identifying further thermal efficiency opportunities.
Carlson Orchards built the PV project with the ”Buy Local” concept that is thriving in our farming community today. Project implementation involved a number of Massachusetts businesses, including Devens-based Evergreen Solar PV panels and Lawrence-based Solectria central DC-AC electric inverters, and installation by Rockland-based clean energy company Lighthouse Electrical Construction, Inc. The over 250,000 kWh annually generated by the system will be totally used on-site, offsetting approximately 70 percent of annual energy needs and saving 3,700 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. Under the leadership of Franklyn and Symantha, a variety of entities collaborated to bring the PV project to culmination, including the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (which provided a $564,750 rebate through the Commonwealth Solar program), the USDA, National Grid, the Massachusetts Farm Energy Program (MFEP), and the DAR.
Many words of praise came on August 13 from and for all who helped implement this agricultural milestone. They included federal and state officials such as US Rep. Niki Tsongas, State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, USDA Massachusetts Director Jay Healy and DAR Commissioner Scott Soares, as well as the team that ultimately organized and put the project in the ground. For the MFEP, Program Administrator Darlene Monds and I noted to a round of applause that this was the 43rd project to be implemented with MFEP assistance in the program’s short two and a half year existence.
And although there was help along the way and plenty of congratulations to go around, this celebration was truly Carlson Orchards’ day, as it joined the ever-growing number of Massachusetts farms heading down the road toward a cleaner energy and environmental future. Great job and CONGRATULATIONS to Carlson Orchards!
Photos for this post were taken by Karen Snyder Photography.