Easy as 1, 2, 3 – How This Maine Blueberry Farm is Going All-Electric
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Tony and Marianne Marple love winter. This year they did not get much of one. “January was 6.5 degrees above normal,” says Tony. For the Marples, it’s concerning for the sake of the planet as a whole, but also for the future for their three granddaughters, and their farm in Whitefield, Maine where they have 30 acres of wild blueberry fields. The good news is, they, like many others, are seeing the signs and turning to renewable solar energy for the future of the planet.
Tony has been a self-described “climate fanatic” since the seventies when he first read about the human impact on our climate. “Ever since I’ve known him, he’s been extremely conscious of his environmental footprint,” notes Marianne.
When the pair moved to Maine in the mid-eighties and began piecing together their now 200+ acre farm, they looked for the most sustainable ways to manage and live on it in ways that often mean straying from common practice. When they learned that blueberry fields are commonly burned with fuel oil after a harvest to promote new growth, they decided instead to cut the fields back biennially with a flail mower, sparing the earth the heavy toll of burning.
Interested in cutting their carbon footprint in other ways as well, the Marples got in touch with ReVision in 2013 to install 22 panels on the roof of their house in what would be the first of 3 solar installations.
The array initially offset all of their electricity usage but they are still as sparing of energy today as they were before they went solar. “We still conserve energy whenever possible, even with the solar panels,” says Marianne. That means efficient LED lighting in the house, making sure to turn the lights off, using cold water in the washing machine, and even changing the way they travel.
Eschewing carbon pollution-heavy travel methods like flying for alternatives like traveling by train, the Marples have determined to tread – or roll, rather – as lightly on the earth as possible for trips nearer to home as well. In 2017 they switched to a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle and had Revision install an EV charger, plus a 12-panel solar expansion on their barn to produce the additional energy they would need for charging it.
The started off with a Prius hybrid which they gave to their son and are now enjoying driving a Chevy Volt hybrid, and the all-electric Chevy Bolt. “They’re really fun,” says Tony of EV’s. “Be careful when you first get one – they go fast.” They’ve noticed that having their energy usage constantly displayed on the dashboard for them affects the way they drive. “You get good efficiency until you hit about 65,” says Tony. “I never drove that slowly on the interstate, but I do now!”
Keeping Warm With Solar
As Tony and Marianne kept examining their carbon footprint, they realized that heating with a woodstove, even with wood from their sustainably managed woodlot was not as environmentally friendly as they first thought. This January, they called ReVision back for an air source heat pump for supplemental heat in the winter, and cooling in the summer.
“It’s been working great,” says Marianne. “We came home late and it was great to just turn on the heat pump. I didn’t have to wait an hour for the woodstove to heat up.” They’re looking forward to testing out the cooling when summer weather arrives as well.
Third Time’s the Charm
For Tony, it was important to be producing all of their energy from the sun, and with the heat pump and two electric vehicles, their solar production was no longer enough to offset their full year-round energy usage. So, they decided to go forward with another expansion with the knowledge that it helps them as well as their surrounding community. “Some people don’t want to be overproducing,” says Tony, “but if we’re sending clean energy into the grid that others can use, that’s great too.”
They built an open-walled shed for their tractor and other equipment with a solar-ready roof. “The most important thing was orienting it south for the maximum solar production,” says Marianne. “We just wanted to make it easier for ReVision,” jokes Tony. He adds, “ReVision is a really great company. We’re really impressed.” With the new 16-panel expansion installed just this April, they will be back to producing all the energy they use on site once more.
The Marples have made taking care of the planet a way of life, and they’re constantly looking for ways to improve. In 2019 they even won the Knox-Lincoln Conservation Farmer of the Year award for their management of their fields to promote native pollinators, through planting and mowing methods, and wild bee boxes, which all helped their blueberry production immensely.
“What we haven’t done is looked at our dog’s carbon footprint yet,” says Tony, though it’s likely that Max ’s impact on the planet is entirely offset by his adorableness, if not by the Marples’ solar. In the future, they hope to put some of their clean solar energy to use around the farm. They’re getting an electric wood-splitter and hoping to transition more tools over to electric as they can. “We’re hoping for an electric tractor someday,” says Tony.