Farming requires a lot of planning. With all the things to consider - business planning, land access, markets, navigating staff and labor needs, and farming, energy efficiency and conservation can easily be overlooked.
There are practical financial benefits to becoming more energy efficient and conserving energy. In addition to the environmental benefits of reducing fossil fuel use and lowering greenhouse gas emissions, energy rates are high! And New England farmers are paying 23-56% more for energy than the national average.
Energy efficiency and conservation not only reduce costs in the short term, they pave the way toward the integration of renewable energy into your farm systems and budget. Depending how many years your farm has been in operation, there are different strategies you may use to reduce energy costs. Doing something – whatever fits within your means, is a good investment. Consider taking a moment to assess your current practices and developing an energy plan for your farm.
Take a look at the resources below (almost all free of cost) for ideas about how to start reducing your farm’s energy costs.
The easiest and most cost effective method of achieving energy savings is through energy conservation. Energy conservation means using energy wisely and eliminating energy waste such as running a motor or ventilation fan when not necessary. Take time to review your practices - and those of your employees to see if you can reduce your energy demand. The University of Vermont Institute for Energy and the Environment website features advice on practical conservation methods that don’t cost a thing.
Farm Energy Discount
Through the Massachusetts Farm Energy Discount Program farms can reduce their gas and electricity bills by 10%. Following a simple application and certification by the Mass Dept of Agriculture, farms remain enrolled unless there are changes to utility accounts. Visit the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources to sign up online, or request an application in the mail.
Time of Use Management
Time of Use management is a special billing structure that may be available through your public utility. It encourages customers to use less electricity during “peak” hours, and use energy intensive equipment outside of peak hours. Of course, some operations have to happen at certain times of day, regardless of peak or non-peak times. Contact your utility to ask about peak hour pricing and time your energy use accordingly if possible.
Public Utility Incentives and Programs
There are special programs designed to identify and install efficient lighting, pumps, fans, and other technologies. Each one of us contributes to these programs through very small charges on our utility bills. Those charges are pooled, creating a conservation fund and used to finance energy efficiency for both business and residential customers. That’s right- it’s your money-so use it! Public utility programs include:
- Free audits designed to help you assess your energy use in certain areas (commonly lighting, refrigeration, heating with natural gas, and dairy equipment).
- Many public utilities have incentives for retrofits and upgrades, as well as new equipment purchases meeting specific guidelines. They will frequently pay between 50%-70% of the cost of installation for upgrades.
- Are you a municipal power customer? Ask your local power company if they offer any conservation incentives – some do.
Farm Energy Audits
An energy audit is a valuable tool when applied to energy planning and decision making. While less useful for predicting future energy use through expansion or other changes, audits provide a snapshot of current energy use on the farm. Consider starting with a simple utility audit, and update it every 3-4 years. For more complex projects like greenhouse upgrades or a new walk-in cooler, take the time to determine your goals, timeline, and budget. Contact the MA Farm Energy Program for guidance or help preparing for an audit. Types of farm energy audits include:
- Public utility audits (mentioned above) review electricity and gas use.
- AgEMP audits: the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offers an audit called an Agricultural Energy Management Plan (AgEMP). An AgEMP includes a comprehensive look at all farm energy use. A completed AgEmp is one requirement for grant funding through NRCS. They offer generous payments toward energy saving measures as part of their Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). To request an Agricultural Energy Management Plan (AgEMP), contact your local field office.
- Custom audits: the MA Farm Energy Program can also help fund custom audits useful for evaluating specific farm practices or things that cannot be addressed in utility audits. Contact the MA Farm Energy Program for help determining what type of audit is best for you.
- Self-audits: you can periodically perform a self-audit on many systems, including greenhouses and refrigerated spaces, in order to get sense of what is working properly, and what needs attention.
For many farms, utilizing renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and biomass are a large part of their long range plan. For more information about renewable energy technologies, funding opportunities and technical resources, consult MA Farm Energy Program’s Farm Energy Best Management Practices Guide on Renewable Energy. Massachusetts farmers have a wide variety of grants, rebates and tax incentives available to them to support renewable energy projects. For information about rebates toward renewable energy projects, as well as a wealth of information about renewable energy generation in the state, check out the Mass Clean Energy Center.
The MA Farm Energy Program, located in Greenfield, MA, is a statewide collaborative effort, providing direct technical and financial assistance to farmers and agricultural businesses. Contact them at 413-475-3349 for more information about planning and implementing your farm energy projects.