Lewis Creek Farm lands USDA energy grant to build solar project

STARKSBORO — Lewis Creek Farm, one of Starksboro’s largest crop farms, is aiming to expand the already hefty solar energy portfolio in the small town.
At the end of last month, the USDA announced that its Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP) would fund 450 energy projects across the nation. The aim of the program is to help farmers and small rural businesses cut energy consumption and reduce costs.
Eight Vermont projects were funded, including one by Starksboro’s Hank Bissell, who runs Lewis Creek Farm. 
Beginning in September, Bissell will have access to about $14,000 in federal funds, which will help him draw a portion of his farm’s electric power from the sun. His project consists of installing fixed, photovoltaic solar collectors on the south-facing roofs of his farmstead buildings to generate close to 10 Kilowatts of power.
He predicts the panels will produce roughly 11,600 kW-hours per year, or around 40 percent of Lewis Creek Farm’s total energy needs.
The grant, he said, has made it financially feasible for him to afford this solar technology.
“This is a fairly expensive project to install,” he said. “These are grants aimed at agriculture, trying to get farms to put in some sort of alternative energy — sometimes it’s solar, sometimes it’s wind and sometimes it’s hydro.
“My impression has been that solar is the one technology that has taken a leap forward such that it really is working and is paying for itself. The wind seems to be running into more problems. But I’ve seen a lot of solar going in this area.”
In 2010, Starksboro residents voted to install 25 solar trackers to fuel the town’s Robinson Elementary School and its municipal offices with energy from the sun. The projects have had a ripple effect, and many local townspeople have begun installing solar collectors of their own, capitalizing on state and federal subsidies.
“I’ve seen a number of projects going in the area and it seems like it’s working,” said Bissell. “The technology isn’t breaking. It’s at the point where it’s plug and play. And it’s paying for itself with state incentives. Plainly, it’s working and it’s something that’s worth investing in.”
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected]

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