Sun Saves Money for Alabama Chicken Farmer

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace. To avoid the first danger, one should plant a garden, preferably where there is no grocer to confuse the issue. To avoid the second, he should lay a split of good oak on the andirons, preferably where there is no furnace, and let it warm his shins while a February blizzard tosses the trees outside.”

~Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

 

 

Powering chicken coops with solarRicky McGee of Fyffe, Alabama is a poultry farmer. When I visited his business on an overcast day in October his coops were empty and clean, awaiting the next batch of chicks.


The roof of that same coop, however, was anything but empty. It was being outfitted with 161 solar panels by Tennessee Tennessee Solar Solutions of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

 

 

 

 

Putting solar on a chicken coop

 

Why put solar on a chicken coops?

Ricky McGee is a pioneer among his peers as the first poultry farmer in Northern Alabama to tap into the sun to offset enormous electrical costs associated with poultry farming.

 

“I’m a guinea pig, that’s what I am,” Ricky says good-naturedly.

Heating and cooling chickens can cost a lot. The birds are very susceptible to temperature change, especially in the summer months.

 

Pictured (L-R):  Tennessee Solar Solutions: Josh Hood, Installer; Anthony Roden, President; Rod Harrison, Sales Manager; Brandon Carter, Vice President.
Bottom:  Ricky McGee

Chicken farmers going solar

 

 

 

 

 

 

“They run huge water coolers in here to keep it cooled…they have utility bills that could be well over $1,000 a month.” – Rod Harrison of Tennessee Solar Solutions

Solar SolutionsThe biggest cost is the initial installation but that investment would be higher if not for two factors on Ricky’s side: the project is both agricultural and rural. That makes farmers eligible for a special USDA grant called REAP. The grant pays one quarter of the install costs. And, as a commercial operation, Ricky will be eligible for a 30% federal tax credit.

Ricky won’t use the solar directly. Instead, he sells it back to Sand Mountain Authority. “He feeds back into the grid and they offset his bill by the amount of energy he generated. It’s a credit and debit transaction,” says Rod Harrison.  If all goes as planned, the sun’s energy could cover 75% of the farmer’s electrical costs.  We’ll keep our fingers crossed.

 

 

Tennessee Solar Solutions ranks 319 out of more than 10,000 solar installation companies in the nation and this project is their first poultry farm. They hope others will soon follow, spreading sunny savings throughout the southeast states of Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia.

 

Sustainable Energy Superstar: Bronwen Murray

Meet Bronwen Murray: Journalist, Marketing Maven, and Sunshine Grabber. Bronwen lives in a solar-powered home.

SunsetHOME FACTS

  • FACT: Solar energy provides 100% electrical power
  • FACT: Solar system completed July 2015
  • FACT: System consists of 18 solar panels
  • FACT: 16 storage batteries
  • FACT: Average total installation costs: 20K
  • FACT: Home age: 100+ years
  • FACT: Square footage: 1200 square feet

 

I met Bronwen outside her family home, as the sun sank into the fields, creating a peachy glow from the front porch steps.

Bronwen is inspired by her 83-year-old Grandmother and beloved mentor to live sustainably. Her dedication is evidenced by the 18 solar panels on the roof of the small bungalow where she resides.

 

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“This is an over 100-year-old house. It belonged to my great grandmother. This is also the Humphrey farm which has been in my family for about seven generations.”

When the family discussed adding solar power, Bronwen resolved to maintain the integrity of the original home, with its rustic character and small footprint. At just 1200 square feet and one bedroom, it is the perfect size for a single woman.

“I like the idea of making something of what you already have.”

tankless water heater

One feature Bronwen added was an on-demand water heater. As faucets pull water into the house, the system very quickly heats it to the 140 degree range. It is powered by propane (think ubiquitous silver bullet-shaped tank hugging the ground).

 

As the panels draw solar into the home, the sunshine is converted into DC (direct current) electricity through a method called photovoltaics (PV).  An inverter changes the DC power into AC (alternating current).

 

And off it goes, into a box that Bronwen calls the “heart” of the system. That system ferries current where needed. Any unused energy is stored in big battery packs. During overcast, rainy time periods, the “brain” pulls power from the batteries. If necessary, the system can toggle over to Bronwen’s public electrical source.

“The ‘Midnight Classic’ system is really kind of like the brains of what makes this guy work.”

BronwenBrain (1)

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But that’s not all.  Inside her home, Bronwen uses energy-efficient appliances. She even purchased an energy efficient washer/dryer combination. But there was a downside: it took almost five hours to do one load of laundry. I’m not kidding.

Sometimes, convenience trumps sustainability.

“So I had to get rid of it and then this one didn’t fit in the space. So, it’s going back. Hopefully, something else is coming that will let me do laundry,” says Brownwen.

With the light from that magical orb long disappeared from the sky, we moved conversation indoors where we talked for several hours gathered around a very different kind of light.

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