Energy is a critical and expensive input for all sectors of the food system. From powering tractors to heating greenhouses and firing ovens, energy is indispensable. Electricity, heating oil, natural gas, diesel and motor fuel are the primary energy sources in the food system. Each has its own markets, generators, suppliers, distributors, and regulatory systems. Each also has its own pricing structure and emissions profile. Every dollar spent on energy costs by food producers is one less dollar going to profits or to other investments.
Energy usage can contribute greenhouse gas emissions to our atmosphere, fueling climate change. The Commonwealth has set ambitious targets under the Global Warming Solutions Act to reduce our State’s greenhouse gas emissions, and thus every sector must be scrutinized for emissions reduction opportunities. We are now leading the country in energy efficiency programs and policies, and are installing significant new solar, wind, and other clean energy facilities.
While food production and processing consumes significant amounts of energy, there are also increasing amounts of renewable energy through solar thermal and solar photovoltaic, wind, and anaerobic digestion facilities being incorporated into our food system. Much of this distributed generation powers on-farm and on-site operations, while also supplying clean energy to the electrical grid. In this way, farmers and others are generating energy, reducing pollution, supplementing their income and reducing energy demand and emissions.
Despite the growth of energy efficiency and renewable energy investments in the agricultural sectors, barriers to wider-spread adoption remain. Barriers include uncertainty over financial incentives, State and local regulations, and the uncoordinated and complicated landscape of the energy sector.
Recommendation 5.1: Reduce the complexity of navigating energy options for all areas of the food sector.
Action 5.1.1: Increase funding to the MDAR’s Farm Energy Program to meet unmet demand. MDAR has been allocating $150,000 per year in State funds; increasing the State allocation to $350,000, as authorized in the environmental bond, would better help meet demand.
Action 5.1.2: Modify EOEEA’s Farm Energy Discount Program to require all brokers and suppliers to provide a ten percent discount to farmers on electricity and natural gas bills
Action 5.1.3: Maximize partnership opportunities with federal programs such as those at USDA-NRCS, USDA’s Farm Service Agency, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development that can and have provided funding and technical assistance associated with energy conservation and renewable energy investments.
Recommendation 5.2: Increase energy efficiency throughout the food system and make it easier for the end users/adopters to participate and finance energy efficiency upgrades.
Action 5.2.1: Encourage greater consistency and communication across utility companies’ energy efficiency programs (including municipal utility companies).
Action 5.2.2: Allow agricultural and food businesses to use any applicable incentive payments toward the up front costs of financing energy efficiency projects to reduce the out-of-pocket expenses at the front-end of projects.
Action 5.2.3: Expand monthly installment payment programs (on-bill financing) through utilities to increase efficiency upgrades for natural gas and other fuels.
Action 5.2.4: Support the expansion of “upstream programs” where utilities offer energy efficiency rebates and incentives to distributors and manufacturers, rather than to customers. These programs reduce the cost premiums of more efficient technologies, making them competitive with less efficient technologies. By taking this approach, economies of scale can be realized, leading to more widespread adoption of efficient technologies compared to programs that target the end-user.
Action 5.2.5: Create a funding mechanism for energy efficiency incentives, such as a revolving loan fund.
Action 5.2.6: Target energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies support and technical assistance for food processors and controlled environment farming operations that use significant amounts of energy.
Action 5.2.7: Integrate energy efficiency early in farm or other food system infrastructure building design processes through performance contracting, which allows energy savings to pay for the cost of retrofits and energy upgrades, and retro-commissioning, which tests a building’s energy system and identifies where improvements can be made.
Recommendation 5.3: Increase the ease of installation and amount of renewable generation in all sectors of the food system to provide economic and environmental benefits.
Action 5.3.1: Raise the net metering cap for investor-owned utilities to increase the potential for cleaner, local energy generation.
Action 5.3.2: Develop a revolving loan fund for farm and food business renewable energy projects to provide funds up front to design and build renewable energy projects, removing a significant barrier to expansion.
Action 5.3.3: Support the dual use of land for agriculture and renewable energy systems where compatible for lands with an agricultural preservation restriction or enrolled in Chapter 61A. For example, solar panels located high off the ground and spread apart can be compatible with farming operations, including animal grazing.
Action 5.3.4: Explore an exemption for community energy projects that provide energy to multiple users. Lands under APRs, Chapter 61A, and those that qualify for the agricultural zoning exemption under MGL chapter 40A3 could support additional, larger renewable energy projects so long as the project is sited off of prime farm soils and doesn’t negatively impact future farm productivity.
Action 5.3.5: Ensure a consistent and predictable approach to siting energy facilities on farmland by State agencies. State and quasi-State agencies that regulate and support the energy and farm sectors (DOER, MDAR, MassDEP, and Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) should hold technical sessions that include a wide array of stakeholders, including farmers, municipalities, and developers to reconcile conflicting approaches.
Action 5.3.6: Support implementation of a smart grid to improve the efficient allocation of electricity and to provide more resilience to blackouts and other disruptions to electricity service.
Action 5.3.7: Provide agriculture-specific recommendations to DOER and MassCEC on including renewable thermal technology, including biofuels, in EOEEA’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard Programs
Action 5.3.8: Use solar thermal as a low-cost greenhouse heating option or as supplemental heat source. MassCEC provides incentives for this and they will soon be included in the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard Programs being developed by EOEEA.
Action 5.3.9: DOER should consider offering year-round funding for rural electrification projects, rather than through bid solicitations.
Action 5.3.10: Explore the feasibility of allowing farmers to pool resources to fund energy projects to share interconnection and upgrade costs.
Action 5.3.11: Explore options for expanding three-phase power to rural communities to spur energy development.
Action 5.3.12: Improve the efficiency of food transportation routes by mapping existing local food distribution and recommending optimized distribution routes. Regional planning agencies and metropolitan planning organizations could provide this research and guidance.