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01/10/2018 07:45 AM

Bishop’s Orchards Invests $1.3M in Solar Power

Wondering what’s been growing across the street from Bishop’s Orchards Farm market and Winery? It’s a crop of 1,108 photovoltaic panels that, combined with additional solar panels on the Farm Market roof, are expected to generate 80 percent of the farm’s electrical needs. Photo courtesy of Keith Bishop

In 2015, the Bishop family began investigating options for installing solar at Bishop’s Orchards. Now, two years later, Bishop’s Orchards has more than an acre of newly installed ground-mount solar panels, in addition to 381 panels on the roof of the Farm Market that have been online since Aug. 18.

“I’m not sure where the next physical location that’s got as many panels as we have is—this is definitely the first wide-scale ground-mount solar system in Guilford,” said Keith Bishop. “We are glad to be up and running with our new investment, which is good economically for us in long run. We are also happy with the green aspect as it will decrease our carbon footprint.”

The ground system is located across the street from the Farm Market, which posed several challenges to the plan. State regulations allow only public utility companies to run power lines across the street, so in order for the Farm Market to be able to use the electricity produced across the street on the ground system, Bishop’s needed to get permission to send the electricity produced into the power grid on one side and take it back on the other through a virtual net metering system, which unlike the electric meter on most homes and businesses, can run backward when power production exceeds power use.

“The power you produce is first being used by you and if you have excess, it goes back into the grid,” explained Bishop. “At nighttime or when there’s no sun, you take power back out of the grid.”

After Bishop’s was awarded an allocation for the virtual net metering, it put in a bid with Eversource for the Zero Emissions Renewable Energy Credit Program, which dictates the amount generators are paid for the power they produce, and applied for and received additional permits and contracts required for this project from Eversource, as well as the town, state, and federal governments. After two rounds of requests for proposals, Bishop’s worked with Independence Solar as the primary contractor, assisted by Munger Construction, Apuzzo Electric, and SKED Electric.

In addition to the contracts and application process, Bishop’s made several upgrades in order to best use the panels, including installing more than $150,000 of refrigeration, motors, and lighting improvements as well as roof upgrades before the roof panels were installed.

During the process, Bishop’s also reached out to neighbors to explain the project, noting the location of the panels and the reasoning for choosing the location. There are 1,108 panels installed in 17 rows that went live on Dec. 29 on a hill that was a Christmas tree farm more than 10 years ago.

“One of our goals is to have solar implemented appropriately on agricultural lands and minimize the solar panels overgrowing crops and not having a significant amount of solar on prime agricultural land,” said Bishop. “Our system is on hillside and was designed with a racking system to get optimal results. It is on land that otherwise couldn’t grow crops because of the ledge-y rock and soil.”

While Bishop noted that the cost for the solar projects was about $1.3 million, it is projected that the ground system will provide about 60 percent of the farm’s electricity usage and the roof system will provide about 20 percent of the electricity usage to cover 80 percent of Bishop’s total electricity usage.

“We are looking at a return on the project in a six- to seven-year time period, which can go up or down depending on the cost of energy,” said Bishop. “The tax incentives and credits are part of the economic calculations.

“We’re planning for this to be here for additional generations and family ownership can use power generated for growing our produce and refrigeration for apples, which is where the big cost is,” added Bishop’s. “This is not just a short-term investment. We’re here for the long run and this is a signal to the community that we’re here for that and that we care about the environment and stewardship of the land.”

Bishop’s Orchards’ rooftop solar panels are expected to generate 20 percent of the electricity used on the farm.Photo courtesy of Keith Bishop
Photo courtesy of Keith Bishop