Shoreham apple storage goes solar
SHOREHAM — Barney and Christiana Hodges, co-owners of Vermont Refrigerated Storage in Shoreham, have been strong advocates of renewable energy for over 20 years. The two put solar panels on their Cornwall house in 1996, way before solar made economic sense and before net metering existed.
The Hodges had a dream to not only have some measure of energy independence at their own home but also produce solar energy to offset the electric load at their apple packing business, Vermont Refrigerated Storage, which they co-own with Gregory O’Brien. The 76,000-square-foot facility on Route 22A in Shoreham village stores up to 220,000 bushels of apples each year for seven-12 different orchards. In addition to storing apples, VRS also provides refrigeration and freezers for a variety of other companies.
The business owners followed the growth of solar over the years keeping an eye on cost of commercial solar projects, system reliability, and maturity of the technology, according to a press release from Aegis Renewable Energy of Waitsfield.
“The time was right for us to make this long-term investment for our business and our planet,” Barney Hodges said. “With the volatility of the solar industry you just don’t know what future regulations will look like so we knew that we needed to act while conditions were favorable.”
The three business owners saw the positive impact solar could have on their business by dramatically reducing operating expenses. Equally important to all was finding a way to minimize the impact this energy-intensive business has on the environment. There was still one big problem: How would they pay for it? Running two businesses (the other being Chris and Barney’s Sunrise Orchards in Cornwall) the Hodgeses was just too busy to do the legwork necessary to find the right solar product and service, so naturally they enlisted their daughter Sophie, who was a junior in high school at the time.
Sophie Hodges, an environmentalist in her own right, jumped right on board and incorporated her efforts into her educational curriculum as she looked to find the best design and financing for a solar array. In short order Sophie reached out to Nils Behn, CEO of Aegis Renewable Energy, which provides turnkey renewable energy design and installation services.
“Aegis does not try to fit every project into a single box, we identify the needs of the customer and present solutions that match their specific situation,” Behn said, in the press release. “We reach outside the industry-standard models and enable innovative new ways for our customers to achieve their goals.”
Aegis worked with the Hodges family and O’Brien for more than a year and a half and put forth tax equity, sale leaseback, and net metering credit agreement options, but, from the start, Barney Hodges and O’Brien wanted to find a way to have ownership. O’Brien eventually found a partner that would enable them to do just that.
Misty Knoll Farms of New Haven joined them on their renewable energy project, a 562kW, ground-mounted solar array, and Vermont Economic Development Authority provided the necessary financing. They combined forces and were able to hire Aegis to design, permit and construct the solar facility. The system is net-metered and Vermont Refrigerated Storage and Misty Knoll each take their respective share of the energy produced, which will reduce their electricity bills and make their businesses stronger economically while reducing the carbon footprint of the apples and poultry that these Vermont businesses sell.
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