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Farm energy audit program gets new funding

A local farm agency has been awarded $74,769 to help farms across the state cut their energy dependence as well as their greenhouse gas emissions by conducting energy audits and developing renewable energy and alternative energy systems.

The Conservation Innovation Grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service are designed to help farmers adopt innovative conservation approaches and technologies to address water quality and quantity, air quality, energy conservation and other natural resource issues.

Amherst-based Berkshire-Pioneer Resource Conservation Development Area Inc. has done 41 energy- efficiency and renewable- energy projects with Franklin County farmers since 2008, resulting in annual savings of $407,203 in energy costs and reduction of 2,950 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, according to Program Manager Jessica Cook. Among the projects are an efficient refrigeration system for the cheese-aging facility at Chase Hill Farm in Warwick that saves 2,400 kilowatt hours a year and a photovoltaic system that offsets the farm’s electrical use by 10,000 kwh a year, and a comprehensive set of energy upgrades at Whately’s Full Bloom Market Garden that includes insulating “thermal screens” for greenhouses, photovoltaic, efficient heating and lighting and a wood-pellet boiler.

The organization will expand its current farm energy audit and implementation program and focus on innovative energy conservation practices not yet supported through NRCS’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program.  This will be achieved through in-depth trialing, on-farm demonstration and documentation.

Over the next year the organization expects to conduct 10 to 15 audits and consultations to focus on new heat recovery systems, heat pumps or geothermal applications on farms that may have been used in other kinds of commercial operations, Cook said.

“It’s not just demonstration projects,” she said. “We’ll be trying to document projects that have been implemented (elsewhere), look at the specs, standardize them and disseminate that information so that farmers are able to use them and make decisions about what will work well on their farms, too.”

Berkshire Pioneer also makes use of state agricultural funds and utility programs to do farm “energy assessments” that are used for implementing new systems.

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