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Your Farm Energy Plan - How to Get Started

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2013 June Issue Newsletter

By Layla Hazen Program Assistant, MA Farm Energy Program

Photo credit: Jess Cook, MA Farm Energy Program

You’re always hearing about the importance of business planning for farm viability, but do you have an energy plan
for your farm? There’s a simple way to get started - and no matter how long you have been farming, there is something you can do to save energy.
 
Energy is a part of your business plan. Energy savings directly affects your bottom line –New England farmers
are paying 23-56% higher rates for energy than the US average. And saving energy strengthens your marketing and responsible business practices by reducing fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions. Even small efficiency upgrades, such as updating lighting, can add up to substantial annual savings and can pay for themselves in a season to a couple of years.
 
Know your options
There are many helpful resources available to farmers to help make decisions about energy use and farm infrastructure, including:
The Massachusetts Farm Energy Program offers a series of sector-specific guides, designed to provide practical information concerning energy efficiency
and renewable energy. The Massachusetts Farm Energy Best Management Practices Guides are available at no cost on the
MFEP web page.
UVM provides helpful information both through the Institute for Energy and Environment, as well as the UVM Extension service AgEngineering blog.
ATTRA, a program of the National Center for Appropriate Technology, has provided information to farmers concerning conservation practices and energy for 25 years. They feature articles, papers, and much more on their web site.
 
Where to start
There are ways to reduce your energy costs without spending a dime, including:
Energy conservation is the easiest and most cost effective method of achieving energy savings. Using
energy wisely and eliminating energy waste such as running a motor or ventilation fan when not necessary, are
just a few simple ways to conserve. Take time to review your farm’s to see if you can reduce your energy demand.
The Massachusetts Farm Energy Discount Program is a program run by the Massachusetts
Department of Agriculture, allowing eligible farms to reduce their gas and electricity bills by 10%. Visit
the MDAR website to sign up online, or request an application by mail.
 
Assess your energy use
 If you want to identify ways that your farm can save energy, begin with an energy audit. Energy audits are a valuable tool for energy planning and decision-making. They provide a snapshot of current energy use on the farm, based on your day-to-day farming operations, and so should be updated if operations change significantly. There are a few different types of audits available to Massachusetts farms:
Free public utility audits (from your gas or electric company) are available for assessing electricity or natural gas
use, typically for lighting, refrigeration, heating systems, and other custom measures. Utility companies also have funds available to help pay for energy saving upgrades – often incentives can cover 50-70% of the cost! Some examples include lighting, refrigeration (heat recovery, fans, and controls), pumps, plate coolers, building envelope improvements, and more. Your utility also offers no-cost audits and incentives for residences.
• Another type of audit suitable for some farms
(particularly greenhouses and maple operations)
are Agricultural Energy Management Plans
(AgEMPs), a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) program. An AgEMP includes a comprehensive look at all farm energy use. A completed AgEmp is a
prerequisite for NRCS’ generous payments toward energy saving measures as part of their Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
MFEP farm audits are targeted farm audits, useful for evaluating specific farm practices, or things that cannot
be addressed in a utility audit. They are partly funded by the MA Farm Energy Program.
After completing an energy audit, prioritize your list of upgrades. Then you begin on making the financials work for
your farm business, including looking for funding support from outside sources.
 
There are public utility programs designed to help with energy efficiency. Every customer contributes to these
programs through small charges on their utility bills. Those charges are pooled in a conservation fund and used to
finance energy efficiency for both business and residential customers. So take advantage of utility programs – it’s your
money! Public utility programs will frequently pay between 50%-70% of the cost to upgrade equipment, and under
certain guidelines, will contribute toward new equipment purchases as well.

The Mass Clean Energy Center offers rebates toward renewable energy projects including solar PV, solar thermal, biomass and more.
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP, through NRCS, offers payments for greenhouse efficiency, maple upgrades, and certain types
of motors and refrigeration upgrades.
The Massachusetts Department of Agriculture (MDAR) support farms through their AgEnergy Grant program
– a grant designed specifically to aid the implementation of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.
The USDA REAP grant is a federal grant supporting energy efficiency and renewable energy.
• There are a number of organizations that offer farm financing in the state, including small loans
for infrastructure improvement and renewable energy investments.
The MA Farm Energy Program provides direct funding to farmers through an incentives program on a
rolling basis. Incentives on based on energy savings and focus on energy efficiency improvements. MFEP also
provides one-on-one technical assistance to farms seeking funding for farm energy projects, offering referrals,
education, and support.
 
While planning for energy efficiency or a renewable energy project seem like a big task (and it’s true, it takes some work)
it’s important to remember that there is help. Now is the time to get started!
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