DAMASCUS, PA — Willow Wisp Organic Farm is partnering with the local Clean Energy Co-op to make the switch to solar-power. They plan to install 168 solar panels, which will power over 140% of the farm’s energy needs.
To help raise support for the project, the owners of Willow Wisp, Greg Swartz and Tannis Kowalchuk, hosted a tour of their 30-acre farm on June 24. Following the tour, Jack Barnett, president of the co-op, provided more information about the planned installation.
The project will cost nearly $95,000. The majority of this will be paid for by members of the co-op who can invest in the venture via preferred shares. These funds will allow the co-op to provide Willow Wisp with a long-term, low-interest loan. However, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has defrayed some of the cost of the installation by reserving $12,000 for a grant for Willow Wisp toward construction.
Because the planned 3,000 square feet of solar panels is expected to provide the farm with more than 100% of its electrical needs, Barnett says that the excess will provide a kind of energy credit that can be used whenever the sun is not shining. “It’s infinite battery… without having to pay for it,” said Barnett.
This access to infinite battery, known as net metering, is a major incentive for Pennsylvania and New York residents to invest in clean energy. However, not all states allow for this incentive. During the information session, Barnett warned the audience that across the nation, utility companies have heavily challenged these laws. “The powers-that-be are building to undo those rights to have that net-metering capability,” said Barnett.
The Clean Energy Co-op is made up of about 60 members, and was formed in 2014 as an offshoot of the non-profit Sustainable Energy Education and Development Support (SEEDS). Their previous projects include installing solar panels for The Cooperage Project and The Ant Hill Farm, both in Honesdale.
The Ant Hill Farm serves as a promising prototype for the current project. Currently, the cost for Ant Hill Farm to service the loan from the co-op is less than their old utility fees.
Swartz and Kowalchuk are committed to sustainable agricultural practices, and believe that utilizing solar energy goes hand-in-hand with organic farming. “Organic soil management is about managing that resource in a way that increases health over the long-term. And that cycle is all about capturing solar-energy. Growing plants is solar-collection. So why shouldn’t we think about the way in which we use energy the exact same way?” said Swartz.
Over 175 people attended on June 24. Many of them were members of the co-op, and following the information session, members who resided in Pennsylvania met privately to discuss investing in the project. Due to Pennsylvania security laws, only members who live in Pennsylvania are able to invest.
Looking ahead, Swartz hopes to someday become even more energy-efficient by moving away from diesel fuel and gasoline. “We’re not there yet. Currently, biodiesel is not a viable alternative, so we would really like to get there someday.”
Barnett closed by commenting that Pennsylvania is far behind New York State in terms of providing incentives for green energy. He is currently part of a state-wide effort to make Pennsylvania 10% solar-powered by 2030. The first step of that plan will be released for public comment on July 12.