October 25, 2014

Medina
Mostly sunny
69°F

Solar energy benefits Medina County farmers

Ben Richardson manages Richardson Farms’ daily operations. He and his father, Bill Richardson, have had a solar panel system installed on their farm, which stresses the use of scientific methods in the practice of sustainable agriculture. (NANCY JOHNSON / GAZETTE)

Ben Richardson manages Richardson Farms’ daily operations. He and his father, Bill Richardson, have had a solar panel system installed on their farm, which stresses the use of scientific methods in the practice of sustainable agriculture. (NANCY JOHNSON / GAZETTE)

It’s not unusual for farmers to harness the power of the sun to grow their crops. However, the Richardson family of Richardson Farms has taken that concept a step further.

The Richardsons installed an energy-saving solar panel system on a barn roof in July at their family-owned farm in Lafayette Township.

Ecojiva Solar Installation Co. of Hudson did the installation.

“With the cost of energy going up, it made sense,” Bill Richardson said. “We want to do things for the farm that are sustainable for the long term.”

Bill Richardson said he and his son, Ben, looked at installing windmills but eventually opted for the solar panel system.

A set of solar panels covers most of one side of a barn roof at Richardson Farms in Lafayette Township. The solar panels, which were installed last month, can generate 22 kilowatts an hour — the equivalent of a 32-horsepower engine. (PHOTO PROVIDED)

A set of solar panels covers most of one side of a barn roof at Richardson Farms in Lafayette Township. The solar panels, which were installed last month, can generate 22 kilowatts an hour — the equivalent of a 32-horsepower engine. (PHOTO PROVIDED)

“There are no moving parts and the panels are not noticeable from the street,” Ben Richardson said. “The solar system is guaranteed to operate with a 25-year warranty.”

Jess Ennis, Ecojiva’s sales director, said farms offer the ideal application for solar power.

“Farmers use a lot of power. For instance, the Richardsons chill produce. Electricity rates are climbing and will only continue to increase.”

The solar panels on the Richardson Farm’s barn generate up to 22 kilowatts an hour — the equivalent of a 32 horsepower engine.

Ennis added: “The electricity infrastructure, including power plants, is getting old. Utility companies are investing billions of dollars in upgrading the grid and that cost will be passed along to consumers.”

Although the Richardsons made the decision to install the solar panels in March, they were required to obtain Ohio Edison’s approval, which pushed the installation date to July.

“Our energy use is net metered,” Bill Richardson said. “If we’re generating more power than we need, that power goes into Ohio Edison’s grid and benefits the public. We’re given a credit that we can use in the winter when the solar panels aren’t producing enough energy.”

“Net metering is an important feature,” Ennis said. “The utility company acts as an energy bank. When the Richardsons generate more power than they need, the surplus flows back through the net meter and Ohio Edison distributes it to other customers on the grid.”

Bill Richardson said the costs to set up and install the solar panels “are substantial, but are offset by green bank credits, grants and tax rebates.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is offering grants for rural farms and businesses to install solar power under the Rural Energy for America Program.

The Richardson family practices several sustainable methods on their farm at 6984 Lafayette Road including using beneficial insects to control destructive insects and a recycling program.

The Richardsons are descended from a long line of growers. Five generations have graduated from the Ohio State University with degrees in horticultural production.

Bill Richardson’s great-grandfather Hamilton H. Richardson was the sixth person to graduate with a degree in farming from Ohio State in the late 19th century. Bill Richardson has a bachelor of science from Ohio State in fruit and vegetable science.

Ben Richardson earned his Ohio State bachelor of science in plant pathology.

The Richardsons grow plants and flowers in their greenhouse, fresh vegetables on their farm and fruit in their orchards. They sell their produce at the farm stand on their property as well as at local farmers markets, including the Medina Farmers Market every Saturday on the city’s Public Square.

With the new solar panel system in place, Bill Richardson said he believes the farm positively will impact the environment.
Ennis agreed.

“For every kilowatt hour the Richardson’s produce, there is one less kilowatt hour produced by burning coal,” he said. “That means there are less pollutants admitted into the atmosphere.

“Solar power is a monumental shift in how we supply energy. Ever since man lived in caves, we have burned materials for energy. With solar power, we are plugging directly into the sun.”

Contact reporter Nancy Johnson at (330) 721-4065 or areanews@medina-gazette.com.

A program explaining how solar energy can benefit farmers will be offered Sept. 4 at the Richardson Farm, 6984 Lafayette Road, Lafayette Township, sponsored by Ecojiva Solar and PNC Bank. An ON-FARM Solar Development lunch will be noon to 1:30 p.m. For more information, visit go.osu.edu/farmenergy or call (330) 725-4911, ext. 106.