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July 29, 2019

Local agricultural operation generates its own electricity

Photos/Lawrence Emerson
Thirty-six panels on the roof and 40 more on a nearby rack system should produce enough electricity to meet most of the demand at Powers Farm & Brewery near Casanova.
Virtue Solar owner Matt Powers (no relation to farm owners) snaps the final panels into place last Thursday afternoon.
About 300 feet of buried conduit links this solar array to the building, where two inverters convert direct current to alternating current.k
It’s very competitive. We’re getting a lot of applications.
— USDA Rural Development Specialist Sydney Long
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Thanks in part to a federal grant, the operations at Powers Farm & Brewery near Casanova got even “greener” last week.

Madison-based Virtue Solar on Thursday completed installation of a 22-kilowatt solar electricity generating system. With 36 panels on the main building’s roof and 40 panels on metal racking nearby, Kevin and Melody Powers hope to generate enough electricity to cover most of their demand.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture grant paid one-quarter of the $60,000 cost.

“It’s very competitive,” said USDA Rural Development Specialist Sydney Long, who works from the agency’s Farmville office. “We’re getting a lot of applications.”

He and his wife for a couple of years wanted to install solar equipment, but the cost presented a challenge, Mr. Powers said.

The Powers have spent $400 to $500 a month with Dominion Energy for electricity to power the brewery, cold storage, lighting and heating/cooling for the multipurpose building on their 21-acre farm.

With the grant, a 30-percent federal tax credit and monthly savings, the system should “pay for itself” in about six years, according to Matt Powers (no relation), who owns Virtue Solar, which installed it.

In addition to the financial incentives, “it fits well with our values,” Mr. Powers said.

The organic farm includes three acres devoted to fruit and vegetable production, with 75 CSA (community-supported agriculture) subscribers. The Powers also sell produce to some restaurants and offer cut flowers. The brewery produces 250 to 300 barrels — or up to 9,450 gallons — of beer annually, almost all of it sold on the premises.

The Powers opened their Southern Fauquier operation in June 2017, but they farmed in New Baltimore for five years before that.

Virtue Solar has helped eight customers apply for USDA grants and seven of them have received funding, Matt Powers said. The local farm and brewery got the maximum 25-percent grant.

This fiscal year, the program has $800,000 in funding for Virginia, with 35 applications for the grants, Ms. Long said. In addition to solar, the grants can help pay for other alternative energy systems, such as geothermal HVAC, and projects that improve efficiency, such as insulation. Businesses and farms can qualify.

“Production is great,” Kevin Powers said Monday, after just a few days of operation.

So far, it looks as if the system will generate “about 90 percent” of the farm and brewery’s electricity on an annual basis, he added.

The system includes two inverters that convert direct current from the panels to alternating current. When the installation generates more electricity than Powers needs, the surplus goes onto the grid and the farm gets credit for its generation. A “net meter” keeps track of that, running backwards and forward, depending upon whether the farm consumes electricity from the grid or feeds its surplus to Dominion.

The Powers’ system has more than twice the generating capacity of the typical residential installation.

Contact Editor Lou Emerson at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-270-1845.
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