Poultry Farm Converted to Solar Energy

DELAWARE, US - The installation of solar power at a 13-house broiler farm is not only reducing energy bills, it is generating income.
calendar icon 22 October 2010
clock icon 5 minute read

In 1782, Owen Isaacs took a plow to soil in Sussex County with high hopes for his new farm. Five generations later, Robbie Isaacs stands on the family farm near Ellendale with a huge grin as he watches a virtual electric meter spin backward on his iPhone, reports Delmarva Now.

Mr Isaacs recently converted his family's 13-house poultry farm near Ellendale to solar energy, and he can monitor every detail of how much energy his 350 solar panels are producing and get alerts from anywhere in the world via his iPhone or computer.

His new system, designed and built by a team of engineers and certified solar technicians from Flexera in Harbeson, Delaware, is doing better than anticipated.

This week, Mr Isaacs said his solar farm is producing more power than the farm is using. It is also producing tens of thousands of dollars of income annually through the sale of Solar Renewable Energy Certificates to the utilities.

The system is comprised of three monitored, ground-mounted banks of solar panels. Flexera's initial estimates, according to project manager Mike Manlove, showed the Isaacs farm would save more than $10,500 on their electric bills in addition to SREC income. But Mr Isaacs' savings are better than that.

At his farm recently, between flocks on a partly sunny day, he watched one of his meters spinning backward at a rate of more than 52,000 watts. The Isaacs solar farm was designed to produce just enough power to pay the farm's energy bills, but so far, says Manlove, it is out-producing estimates.

When Mr Isaacs' electric meters are running backward, he is feeding power back to the mid-Atlantic power grid for credit, and that happens a lot in cooler months and between flocks being in the houses.

With only one full month in operation, the Isaacs' solar farm has produced 13 SRECs that are worth about $325 each and prices are on the rise. Early estimates were the farm would produce about 79 SRECs annually or close to $26,000 into Isaacs' pocket. That has been raised to 100, or an estimated $32,500, in addition to the savings from producing his own electricity.

Electricity is the largest expense of running a poultry farm, and the most vital. Without power to run fans and cooling systems in the houses during hot weather, a crop of chickens can die within seven minutes. The Isaacs farm of 13 houses produces between 1.0 million to 1.24 million chickens a year for Perdue Farms, with each flock numbering close to 248,000 chickens.

Mr Isaacs explained: "That's a lot of risk, and it's a lot of energy. With all the grant money out there that's going to go away and all the advancements in solar energy, I just couldn't see waiting any longer."

He studied alternative energy developments for more than a decade before getting the final go-ahead from his father to install solar on the family farm in January 2010. After researching and choosing a company, the systems were installed and running within six months.

Delaware Secretary of Agriculture, Ed Kees, commented that where alternative energy will make the biggest difference in keeping Delaware agricultural products competitive is at manufacturing plants, particularly such places as poultry processing plants, where energy use is even higher than large chicken farms.

But, he warned, installing such systems is only viable as long as the government is subsidising through grants and SRECs.

"Regulations are changing daily and we're working hard to stay ahead of them," Flexera Regulatory Affairs Manager, Finn McCabe, said. There were regulatory and financial challenges to be overcome before installing the Isaacs' system on Delmarva, but Flexera's engineering, financial and regulatory affairs teams produced all necessary analysis, projections and documentation and worked with Delaware Electric Co-op to get beyond them. The company wrote the grants and is handling the sale of all SRECs, which are legislated through 2025.

"I can't wait till February, when there aren't any flocks and we're feeding all that energy back into the grid and those meters just keep spinning backward," Mr Isaacs told Delmarva Now.

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