Helping farms reduce energy costs
The high cost of energy in Massachusetts is a significant barrier to farmers remaining viable and competitive, and farmers often need assistance finding resources to meet that challenge. “I try to never say no to farmers,” says Megan Denardo, a program specialist at the Center for EcoTechnology, which administers the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources’ (MDAR) Massachusetts Farm Energy Program. The program strongly promotes energy efficiency as well as renewable energy on farms. “If I can’t help them, I try to refer them to another program that can.”
She receives calls from farmers who want to reduce their energy use and costs but don’t know where to start; Megan arranges for a field specialist to do a walk-through of their farm. Other farmers know what upgrades they want to make—installing solar energy or upgrading their lighting, for example—so she connects them with the resources they need, including companies that install solar, and suggests grants that they might qualify for. Sometimes she even goes to the farm to help the farmer assemble the paperwork required for a grant.
Aside from helping farmers apply for funding through the Farm Energy Program, Megan also assists them in completing other MDAR grants and the Rural Energy for America Program grant at the USDA. “Farmers are busy. It can be hard for them to find the time to go through a grant, as it can take several hours. I try to help them so they can go back to farming.”
The Massachusetts Farm Energy Program strengthens the food system because “it reduces the cost of farming and helps farms become more energy sustainable,” Megan says. Once farmers install these new systems, she explains, they spend less on resources such as electricity, in the case of greenhouses for growers, or wood, in the case of maple sugar makers, who are then able to boil their sap more efficiently.
As a result of this program, many farmers now have solar arrays, energy-efficient lighting and higher efficiency heating, cooling, refrigeration, and cold-storage facilities. Maple producers have installed more efficient evaporators, and many dairy farms use refrigeration heat recovery and solar hot water. Many innovative projects are receiving increased support, including dual-use solar, in which a ground-mounted solar array can be located in the midst of grazing or cropland, and battery storage for solar energy, so that farms can store their energy rather than selling it back to the grid.