Why get an energy audit?
Energy audits are useful planning tools and are the first step for farmers interested in energy efficiency or renewable energy projects. They are also required for several key funding opportunities.
Audits provide a snapshot of current farm energy use and costs and set out recommendations for saving energy. They give you an opportunity to compare retrofit options by illustrating which upgrades will save the most energy, which have the quickest payback, and which may be eligible for financial incentives. This is helpful as you prioritize projects and make decisions about equipment purchases.
What do audits cover?
Audit calculations are based on farm records and existing conditions at the time of the analysis. As you make changes to your farm operations, you may need to request an updated audit to ensure accurate recommendations. Energy use is dependent on many variables; therefore, changing any one feature can affect other parts of the system and overall recommendations.
Have a new business strategy in the works? For example, shifting from growing salad greens to tomatoes in your greenhouse? Or increasing the number of taps in your sugar bush? You may need to work with your auditor to include projections of energy use and energy-saving options for this new scenario.
Common types of energy audits
Public utility companies perform no-cost energy audits of businesses, including farms. These audits are available for assessing electricity or natural gas use, typically for lighting, refrigeration, heating systems, and other custom measures. You must participate in an audit conducted by the public utility to be eligible for some of their financial incentives.
If you are a municipal power customer, call your power company about audits or incentives. They may offer no-cost or discounted audits or some prescriptive financial incentives.
The Massachusetts Farm Energy Program (MFEP) provides customized farm energy audits to help farms assess energy-saving and renewable energy options.
MFEP pays for 75% of the cost of the audit and the applicant farmer covers the remaining 25%. Estimates for energy audits & assessments are provided in advance of signing audit contracts.
NRCS Agricultural Energy Management Plan (AgEMP)
This type of audit is administered through the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service. These audits evaluate fuel use and energy savings potential comprehensively across the entire farm. AgEMPs are required to apply to NRCS for EQIP funding related to energy projects.
AgEMPs are commonly awarded by NRCS during prescribed ranking periods, which vary from year to year. NRCS awards payments for a majority cost-share of these audits, which typically run from $800-$2500. To request an Agricultural Energy Management Plan (AgEmp), contact your local NRCS field office.
Renewable Energy Assessments
Contractors installing small and medium size renewable energy systems often perform an assessment at no additional cost as part of the preparation of their proposal. Information includes systems specifications, projected performance, costs, and savings. Many contractors provide assistance in completing utility interconnection applications and submittals for various financial incentives. For larger projects, a feasibility study may be required for funding or additional information may be required to meet local and state regulatory requirements.
How to schedule: Identify one or more installers, and request an assessment and a proposal. Ask for recommendations from farmers who have installed systems, or request a list from MFEP of installers who have worked with farms in Massachusetts. There are a number of companies to choose from. Like any investment, get the details and shop around to find the proposal that works best for you.