Stimulus funds help sprout Grey Barn Farm solar

Stimulus funds help sprout Grey Barn Farm solar

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As President Barack Obama travels to and from Blue Heron Farm on Tisbury Great Pond in Chilmark, he does not need to look far to see federal stimulus dollars at work.

Three new barns and a retail farm store now under construction at Grey Barn Farm, at the entrance to the road that leads to the president’s rented vacation property, will soon sport solar panels.

In June, owners Eric and Molly Glasgow received three state grants totaling $105,190 to help pay a share of the cost of solar energy projects on their new farm. The taxpayer dollars come from $8 million in State Energy Program funding awarded to the Department of Energy Resources under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The Glasgows, who have no prior farming experience, have embarked on a project to create an organic boutique farm, powered in part by the sun. The business will specialize in producing and selling homegrown high-end dairy products that will include milk, yoghurt, and cheese.

Under the name Grey Barn Real Estate Holdings LLC, in July 2009 the Glasgows bought a five-acre parcel that included barns and a house for $3,441,600 from David Douglas, who owned the property then known as Rainbow Farm.

The Glasgows also paid $189,900 for a 63-acre portion of the long-term lease Mr. Douglas held to 99 acres of agricultural land owned by The Trustees of Reservations, a private conservation group with extensive holdings on the Island.

Mr. Glasgow, now 38, is a former London-based international oil trader who worked for Vitol, one of the world’s largest independent energy trading companies, according to published reports. He left oil trading and moved with his wife and two children to Chilmark, to embark on a new, quite different career.

Mr. Glasgow is originally from Swampscott, and Mrs. Glasgow is from Texas.

Benefits the Island

The Glasgows plan to outfit four buildings this November with solar panels. They received grants for three solar arrays of 55, 66, and 99 solar panels, through the Commonwealth Solar Stimulus rebate program. The solar technology furnished for the fourth building is not subsidized. The total cost of the three subsidized projects is estimated to be $372,795.

Alteris Renewables, a renewable energy company based in Wilton, Conn. and with offices throughout New England will install Suntech Power poly-crystalline solar panels that are designed to withstand high wind pressure, snow loads, and extreme temperature variations.

The manufacturer, Suntech Power, is based in Wuxi, China and is one of the largest producers of solar panels in the world.

In a press release issued on June 29, Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Ian Bowles announced that 46 solar energy projects across the state would share $4 million in federal tax dollars from the Commonwealth’s solar stimulus program “as part of the Patrick-Murray administration’s Massachusetts Recovery Plan to secure the state’s economic future.”

It was the second round of awards under a program to fund solar projects generating from five kilowatts (kW) to 200 kW of power each.

The Glasgows were not the only Islanders to claim a share of stimulus finds. The Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Felix Neck wildlife sanctuary in Edgartown received a $21,600 grant, and John Packer, owner of the 42-acre Northern Pines Farm in Tisbury, received a $72,350 grant.

“Thanks in large part to the Commonwealth Solar program, growth in solar power continues to drive our new clean energy economy,” Governor Deval Patrick said in a press release announcing the grants. “This latest round of grants will bring this source of home-grown power to 46 more sites across Massachusetts.”

Kate Plourd, communications manager for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (masscec.com) told The Times the Glasgows received three grant awards “because their project includes three solar PV (photovoltaic) systems on separate buildings on the farm. Grey Barn Farm is a sustainable, organic, year-round dairy and creamery. The Solar PV system is part of the farm’s plan to be a zero net energy enterprise.”

In their grant application narrative, the Glasgows described the benefits and beneficiaries of their farm.

“The beneficiaries are all of the full-time residents of the island of Martha’s Vineyard. The Commonwealth Solar Stimulus Grant has brought us closer to realizing our vision of bringing a sustainable, organic, year-round dairy and creamery to the island.

“The Solar PV system is a key component, along with solar hot water and a wind turbine, of our overall goal of being a net zero energy enterprise. Without this funding, the high energy costs would have made the operating costs of the dairy prohibitive and forced us to price our produce beyond the means of many of the local residents.”

Asked to describe how the number of individuals who will benefit (15,000) was determined, the Glasgows wrote, “We assume that all of the year-round island residents could benefit from fresh, local organic dairy products.”

Toward net zero

In a telephone conversation Tuesday, Mr. Glasgow described the conversion of the Rainbow Farm and adjoining Campbell and Douglas store out of which Mr. Douglas sold tack and feed. “We tend to call it a traditional New England diversified farm with a backbone of dairy and cheese making — value added dairy,” Mr. Glasgow said.

As part of that process they are renovating the old store, building four new barns and renovating a fifth. The store and three of the four new barns, which are subject to an agricultural preservation restriction, will have solar panels on the roof. The four different structures are considered four different projects for state grant purposes.

Construction includes a 6,500 square foot residence at the west end of the five-acre property; the 4,850 square foot dairy; utility, equipment, and loafing sheds — the latter for dairy animals not humans — totaling 12,450 square feet; and a greenhouse, according to plans filed with the Chilmark building inspector. The existing barn on the property will be remodeled to become an 8,990 retail farm store, with space for processing and inventories of cheese and meat, and a kitchen. The existing house on the property, in which Mr. Douglas housed farm workers, will become the Grey Barn Farm office. The Glasgows also plan an herb garden, an orchard, a blueberry patch, and some chickens.

Mr. Glasgow said the total solar energy system will produce just under 100 KW (kilowatts) of electricity that will produce just about 110,000 KW hours per year. Based on estimates, it will provide just about half of the power requirements needed to run the farm’s creamery and retail operation, he said.

The Glasgows new house is not part of the project, for grant purposes, in order to keep from exceeding guidelines associated with agricultural property restrictions.

Although the grant application referenced power generated by wind turbines and the Glasgows have explored that option, he said it is not currently under consideration.

“We really need to see how much power our operation ultimately uses,” he said. “We certainly like the idea of being at net zero energy.”

Mr. Glasgow does not dispute that he is wealthy, but he counters the notion that he retired. “I had the good fortune of doing well early in my career and being a partner in a company that did very well, so I was able to look at where we were and what we were doing and decide that I wanted to do something different with my life,” he said.

Asked what he would say to a taxpayer who questions why tax dollars are being used to help provide his farm with solar panels, Mr. Glasgow said the government has made it a priority to derive more energy from renewable sources and has provided incentives intended to support that goal, not unlike many other programs.

“Should the taxpayers pay for me to have solar panels?” he said. “If you are inclined to think not, then I guess not. I would say that the grant process is competitive, and our project is a particularly good project, in the sense that it has a low cost to power produced, and that is why it was awarded a grant.”

The Grey Barn farm population currently includes three cows and two calves, eight pigs, and 80 laying hens. More cows are on the way this fall. “The plan is to be milking between 20 and 25 cows,” he said. “We will hopefully have a lot more cows and milk this spring. And at that point, our creamery should be complete, and we will get working on making cheese and things of that nature.”

The Glasgows plan to operate a farm store out of the former tack store. He said he expects to be competitive. “We are being certified organic, and I would say that the price that we are going to charge for our milk is the same or less than what you would pay for organic milk at the local supermarket,” he said.