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Cultivating Efficiency on the Farm for a More Affordable Future

USDA REAP Grant Covered 25% of Project!

gardenChristine Langley is a farmer on Lopez Island who, with her partner, designed and built her own home and has developed their land so that it provides for her family and the community. Over the past couple of years, they made an investment in rooftop solar and energy efficiency upgrades to make their home and farm, Lopez Harvest, as affordable and comfortable as possible to prepare for aging in place on the island. OPALCO, in partnership with Sustainable Connections and Spark Northwest, helped the couple access a grant to pay for 25% of their project.

“We want to continue to live our values and protect what we’ve built to be affordable as we age,” said Langley. “We’re creating the infrastructure now to support us into the future. Solar is a beautiful thing – it’s good for us and good for the community – and the grant made it possible.”

etoolsLangley moved to Lopez 32 years ago to work as a farm intern and, many hard-working chapters later, has provided farm jobs at Lopez Harvest to as many as 35 people over the years. She actively gives back to the community by sharing her harvest with the Lopez Food Share (food bank) and, with Lopez Locavores, putting up summer food to be turned into winter soups and other nutritious meals for community members in need.

The original home that Langley built was designed to be as energy efficient as possible employing best practices for insulation, orientation, and construction using structural insulated panels and a yurt-style skylight for natural light in every room. Working with Rainshadow Solar, Langley added 16 solar panels to an outbuilding roof to generate enough power to offset her average monthly usage for the farm and the house. The array is sized to produce ~5.3kW and saves about $50/month on their power bill. Over the life of the project, the savings are estimated at $19,822.

Langley points out that access to capital for projects like this is a challenge for many islanders. “Currently (pun intended), choosing energy efficiency is a privilege,” said Langley. “It’s expensive and not everyone has access to the needed capital. To meet the challenges of the big change that’s happening, it needs to be more than just an individual value.”

greensA big part of the capital equation is access to agricultural land and infrastructure. Langley is concerned about the disconnect she’s perceived as islanders are less engaged in agriculture and resources are harder to come by. She points to the wisdom in partnering renewable power generation with agriculture land – like OPALCO is doing with a sheep farmer on its next community solar project on San Juan Island.

“We now have an opportunity to be pioneers in the realm of agri-voltaics,” said Langley. “When we partner on the infrastructure costs for fencing, weeding, water, power and road access, we increase access to agriculture and bring more value to the community.”

greenhouseOPALCO and Sustainable Connections have partnered to help farms – and businesses of all stripes – to take action now for a more sustainable energy future. With infusion from the new federal infrastructure bills, the USDA REAP grant can now cover up to 50% of member efficiency and solar projects and the Co-op team provides the technical assistance to help you through the grant application process. Pair that with OPALCO’s Switch it Up program, members can tackle projects today with no money down and save on energy costs while paying for these upgrades over time. The frosting on top is the newly announced Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) incentives for efficiency, solar and even electric vehicles.

What’s your plan for an affordable energy future?

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