Drone image of solar panels by ReVision Energy at McDougal's Orchard

The 20kw solar electric array at McDougal’s Orchard on Hanson Ridge in Springvale, Maine powers all of the operations of the 225-year old family farm, including barns, cooling, and donut shack.

For seven generations, the Hanson/McDougal family has been farming acreage on Hanson’s Ridge in Springvale, a charming rural area of Southwest York County, Maine. The farm has evolved dramatically over the generations, starting as a dairy farm with a few apple trees, to a larger orchard operation in the 1930s, to its current set-up as a diversified farm with a little bit of everything: animals, vegetables, a variety of fruits, donut shack, and of course, their orchards with 1,000s of apple trees!

A family farm only survives this long by thinking about future generations in every decision, and that thinking is firmly seated with the current owners of the farm, Ellen and Jack McAdam. In addition to adding new lines of business and modernizing equipment at the farm, they have taken advantage of opportunities to ensure the farm’s future – such as conserving the farmland with a conservation easement made possible by the Land for Maine’s Future program. They also switched over two tractors and a Kubota RTV to biodiesel from Maine Standard Biofuels.

Energy costs are, of course, a major burden on family farms, and Ellen and Jack started seriously exploring renewable energy after hearing Angus King speak at York County Community College. “One thing he spoke of really resonated with me,” Ellen says, “If you’re going ‘green,’ think electricity. The infrastructure is already out there to move it around and there are numerous ways to generate it, including wind and solar. At the time we were thinking wind energy, but, after looking at the wind maps, we realized solar was a better option.”

REAP Program Helps Energize Rural America

McDougal’s had ReVision Energy come out for an on-site evaluation at their orchard, and we worked with them to design a few different options for on-site solar, and helped explain programs to help make it easier for them to go solar.

Key among them was the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant, which offers up to a 25% grant, with two annual cycles for loans under $20,000, and a single annual cycle for grants up to $500,000. Agricultural producers located anywhere are eligible for this grant, as is any business outside an urban area (which includes just about all of Maine, and a good 1/2 of New Hampshire).

McDougal’s learned they had won the grant in June of this year, and shortly thereafter we started construction on the project!

Greening the Grid

The convenience of net metering, a state-level program that allows a solar producer to ‘bank’ excess solar electricity in the form of a credit with the utility, was necessary to make the project possible. Net metering has been found to be a win-win, where the solar producer gets the convenience of reliable backup power and a market for their electricity, and the cost to manage the grid for everyone else decreases thanks to how solar reduces strain on hot summer days.

“Our energy use spikes in the late summer and fall, when we start coolers to remove field heat from apples. After mid-November, that use goes way down,” Ellen explained. “Solar panels provide a great way to ‘bank’ energy during periods of low use, which we can then ‘withdraw’ as needed…and somewhere in the vast power grid, there should be a reduction in the use of fossil fuel because we chose solar energy!”

McDougal’s 76 solar panels will offset roughly 37,203 pounds of CO2 from being emitted annually. This is the equivalent of preventing 1,899 gallons of gasoline from being consumed, or 18,007 pounds of coal from being burned each year.

Come see the array for yourself! The Orchard is open daily, 9AM-5PM through October. The array is on the large barn, with great views from the donut shack.