Solar Thermal on Farms workshops coordinated by the Massachusetts Farm Energy Program (MFEP) on March 27 and April 2 brought together a diverse group of agriculturists that included dairy, vegetable, fruit and livestock farmers. The atmosphere of the workshops was positive and upbeat, with all of the attendees enthusiastic to learn about solar thermal technologies, applications for farms and funding opportunities to install systems.
Gerry Palano, Alternative Energy Specialist with Massachusetts Dept. of Agricultural Resources (MDAR), began the workshop with an overview of solar thermal systems and their components, highlighting the benefits and drawbacks of different systems for varying applications like radiant heating or for heating the soil in a greenhouse. Next, Peter McPhee, Program Director of Renewable Thermal Technologies at Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), provided an overview of funding opportunities available through MassCEC to develop and install solar thermal technologies on farms. To end the workshop, Nancy Nylen, Director of MFEP, led a joint discussion with Gerry and Peter that focused on how farmers can move forward with obtaining funding and installing solar thermal systems.
The most exciting aspect of the workshops, held in Amherst and Wareham to reach farmers statewide, is that they were interactive, with attendees asking questions and communicating why they were interested in solar thermal systems for their farms. Many of the farmers expressed that the main reason for their interest and attendance was to off-set the cost of conventional fuels for heating and hot water. In addition, attendees stated that the installation of renewable energy technologies is a tangible method of exhibiting to customers their intentions to care for the environment and operate more sustainably. When explaining why he wanted to install solar thermal at his livestock operation, Matt LeClerc of Valley View Farm stated, “We can get a bond with our customers, just by installing technologies like solar thermal.” All of the workshop administrators are enthusiastic that many of the attendees will move forward with assessing and potentially installing solar thermal systems on their farms, and we look forward to following the progress of these operations!
The Massachusetts Farm Energy Program (MFEP) is a partnership between the Center for EcoTechnology and the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR). The workshops were conducted in collaboration with the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) with funding from the USDA Rural Business Enterprise and Massachusetts NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant programs.