More than 75 farmers in New Jersey have found a way to save money on their electricity bills while also reducing pollution — solar power.
They are members of Power Crop Initiative, a unique for-profit program that pays for the installation and maintenance of photovoltaic (PV) arrays on farms, using private funds and state rebates. In return for providing space for the installation, participating farmers get guaranteed discount prices for electricity.
Pam Frank, spokeswoman for Sun Farm Network, the company that launched the initiative in 2003, says the program is an effort to make alternative energy more affordable to the masses.
“Solar power is great, but the upfront cost is huge,” Frank says. “We wanted to find a way to make it sustainable and competitive in the mainstream market.”
The program made sense to commercial flower grower Tom Roll of Lebanon, N.J., who says the six PV arrays are a nice fit among his greenhouses.
“I’m always looking for ways to cut down on my energy bills,” he says.
Roll admits that his line of work requires lots of energy and that he has been “a fuel pig.” His annual electricity bills used to total $18,000. At Sun Farms’ reduced rates, Roll says he expects to save approximately $2,000 a year. “We all have to look at alternative ways to sustain our way of life,” he says. “My first bill showed me that the energy I used that month contributed 2,000 pounds less carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere — that’s a positive pat on the back for me.”
Frank says the program has helped prevent the release of more than 1 million pounds of CO2. “The network keeps growing, and we like to think that we are in the business of building the next generation of power plants,” she says.
So far, the program is available only in New Jersey, but Frank says there is enough interest from neighboring New York and Pennsylvania that a future regional initiative is possible.
“The reason the Sun Farm Network exists today is the great policy initiative of New Jersey,” she says. “It has generous rebates and incentives for alternative energy, which makes it a very good environment for this type of program.”
For more information, visit Sun Farm Network.