Farms harvest energy alongside crops
Installations break even in about five years, owners say
By PATTY MAMULA
For the Capital Press
A hop farm and a nursery recently added solar electricity to their harvests in a move that their owners hope will also bolster their bottom lines.
Goschie Farms, a 1,000-acre farm with 360 acres in hops in Silverton, Ore., installed a 17.6-kilowatt system projected to supply 20 to 25 percent of its annual electricity needs.
In nearby Molalla, Ore., One Green World, a 68-acre nursery that grows fruits and ornamentals, installed a 12.6-kilowatt system projected to supply 10 percent of its annual needs.
"The system will provide enough electricity for our shop and warehouse," said Gayle Goschie, who manages the hop operation.
At Goschie Farms, 78 solar panels were mounted on the south-facing roof of a two-story building used for processing hops. At One Green World, 72 panels were placed on the roof of the shipping and receiving building.
"We went back and forth about where to place them," said Laura O'Leary, sustainability director at the nursery. The building they chose is the closest to the utility pole, making it more efficient, and it faces the main road so it's the first one customers see when they drive into the nursery.
"It's a first step in transitioning off fossil fuels," owner Jim Gilbert said.
Both farms have also implemented other "green" practices that earned them Salmon Safe certification. Both continue to look for new recycling and energy-saving opportunities.
In Oregon, there are two ways to finance commercial solar installations: through the incentive program and selling power to the utility through a feed-in tariff.
"The advantage to the incentive route is you get the money sooner," said Alan Hickenbottom, founder of Tanner Creek Energy. "The feed-in tariff pays customers for the electricity their system produces."
The advantage of the tariff setup is the customer gets more money in the long run, Hickenbottom said.
One Green World and Goschie chose the incentive route. The cost of the nursery's system was $94,500.
"About 75 percent came back to us in the form of incentive payments within the first four months," O'Leary said.
The nursery received:
* A federal stimulus grant payment of $28,350, or 30 percent of the total.
* Oregon's business energy tax credit, which the nursery sold for $22,160, or 23 percent of the total. "Someone in Oregon with a tax liability bought it and sent us a check," O'Leary said. "The Department of Energy brokered this."
* The Energy Trust of Oregon, funded by a public purpose charge on utility bills, paid $22,500, or 24 percent of the total.
* Tax savings include federal and state depreciation for six years, plus the energy savings.
"The bottom line is that you have to float that money upfront. You have to have the cash to do it," O'Leary said.
Both solar installations, which are low maintenance and have 25-year warranties, will pay for themselves in five years, the owners said.
Hickenbottom said that although the state has reduced some of its incentives for installations larger than 1 megawatt, it still supports smaller projects and ones that increase efficiency.
He predicts that will continue even after the tax credit expires in July 2012.
He also noted the recent price drop in solar projects, which are typically priced on a per-watt basis. The price has dropped from $9 per watt to $6 or less.
Tanner Creek Energy
4210 SW Altadena Ave.
Portland, OR 97239
One Green World
28696 S. Cramer Road
7365 Meridian Road Northeast
Silverton, OR 97381