Richmond

Solar energy keeping costs down at Blanchette Farm

Sheep are keeping the weeds down

Solar on the Farm

 

Kevin & Donna Blanchette farm twelve acres near Richmond, MN in the Avon Hills area. A 9.8 kW solar array is the newest addition to the pasture they share with chickens, sheep, and a variety of other creatures.

The sheep have been happy to keep the weeds down under the solar panels in exchange for a shady place to rest! We interviewed Kevin Blanchette to learn more.

 

The twelve months prior to the installation, we paid out on average a little more than $100 each month for electricity. And we were already frugal users of energy. The first twelve months of solar production our electrical costs average less than $18 each month.

Kevin Blanchette

Can you tell us a little bit about Blanchette Farm?

Donna is a recently retired science teacher, and I am a recently retired math instructor. Our twelve acre farm is three miles north of Richmond in the Avon Hills area. The farm consists of six acres of woods and about four acres of pasture land. We raise chickens for eggs and eating. We also have a few sheep to keep the weeds down.

What got you interested in solar energy?

Donna began work as a park naturalist in St. Cloud. When we moved to the farm in 2006 we chose not to use a wood burning stove because of the particulate matter they emit. We explored a heat pump, but found the cost to be restrictive. We chose to use propane gas to heat our home with hot water. We insulated every wall cavity and caulked every crack. We then explored options for reducing our electrical energy consumption. We checked into purchasing a wind turbine, but again found the cost to be prohibitive. Early on in researching solar energy, we attended a conference at which Fritz Ebinger from the Clean Energy Resource Teams and University of Minnesota Extension presented. Things progressed quickly from that point—most of the time smoothly!

farm

How did it go?

Fritz came out and did a solar site assessment and analyzed our energy usage. He then provided options that ranged from replacing the electricity we consumed to covering all of our costs associated with electricity production, even generating some income off the structure. We installed a 9.8 kW fixed, ground-mounted solar array. The solar panels are six feet off the ground allowing for the sheep to pasture and lounge beneath the structure. And we do not have any need to manage vegetation around the array!

How did adding solar benefit the farm?

We initiated production in October, 2018. November, 2018 was the cloudiest in thirty-some years. February, 2019 was the snowiest on record. But despite that we are pleased. The twelve months prior to the installation, we paid out on average a little more than $100 each month for electricity. And we were already frugal users of energy. The first twelve months of solar production our electrical costs average less than $18 each month.

field

What advice do you have for others?

  1. Take advantage of the services offered by CERTs and University of Minnesota Extension. The analysis helped us to move forward with this project and to feel comfortable with the final decision.
  2. Get multiple bids. And pay attention to the details. In our case, the cheapest install quote was not the most efficient investment of our money.
  3. Develop a rapport with your local energy provider. And keep them on track.
  4. The Federal Tax Credit for solar energy systems was a huge factor in our payback schedule, so if you're able to take advantage of that, do.
  5. I advocate for a fixed structure. Then you can take the additional cost for a tracking system and put it into more panels. The tracking hardware will have maintenance costs; the panels won’t.

Creatures of Blanchette Farm

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