Sunnyside Farms looks to the sun

‘Old Sol” now works at Sunnyside Farms near Westminster, Md. And he’s paying his way at this 10 million-dozen-egg poultry operation.

Owners and brothers Donald and Ed Lippy decided to be true to their business name by putting the sun to work for them to help offset high energy costs to run the operation. In October 2010, they inaugurated the farm’s new solar energy system.

Egg farms are energy-eaters. Electricity is a major budget item; it powers conveyors, temperature controls, ventilation and lighting to meet the physical and environmental needs of the birds.

Key Points

The sun powers 33% of Maryland’s egg-producing industry.

Tax credits made the switch economically feasible.

More panels or wind turbines may be on the drawing board.


That’s why the Lippys researched options to reduce operating costs and increase energy efficiency. Originally, they planned to use wind energy. But research showed that in Maryland, solar has a higher payback than wind.

Earth and Air Technologies of Hampstead, Md., was contracted to install the system, the largest ag solar use in Maryland. Ken Donithan, the company’s chief power engineer, worked with Sunnyside from paperwork through installation.

Quick payback expected

A $220,500 USDA renewable energy Rural Energy for America Program, or REAP, grant reduced the $882,000 total project cost by 25%. That sealed the deal. A $50,000 grant from the Maryland Energy Administration, and a 30% federal investment tax credit plus renewable energy credits, made the deal even sweeter.

“Payout on the project depends a lot on solar credits, but is expected in five years. Actually, we anticipate more like three or four years,” says Donithan. Low maintenance and durability of the system — up to 25 years — increases the return on investment and profitability.

The solar array sprawls over almost 1 acre. It furnishes a third of the power required by four buildings housing 400,000 birds. The 936 silicone modules, manufactured by Schott Solar, are angled at 25 degrees facing due south on ground-mounted structures.

Each module produces 220 watts of power. The net-metered system is tied to the grid so that when the system produces more electricity than Sunnyside uses, the facility receives credit on its electric bills. The system is anticipated to generate from 275,000 to 300,000 kilowatt hours annually.

Sunnyside Farms is part of Lippy Brothers Inc., a third-generation family farm business with a fourth generation already involved in the operation. Lippy Brothers is committed to good stewardship of the land with renewable energy and sustainable practices. The solar installation adds to its sustainable practices, including conservation and nutrient management plans on all its farms.

For more information about Sunnyside’s solar project, visit www.solarforsunnyside.com, or Earth and Air Technologies at www.earthandairtech.com.

Allen writes about agriculture and new technology from Stillwater, Okla.

Renewable energy resources, incentives

Incentives, rebates, renewable energy credits and grants are available to support renewable and alternative energy in the ag sector.

Used singly or combined, they can offset some initial upfront costs and shorten payback time.

Federal tax credits of 30% of the cost, including installation with no cap, are available for geothermal heat pumps, solar panels, solar water heaters, small wind-energy systems and fuel cells through 2016.

Many states offer additional credits and incentives through their electric co-ops.

Such incentives put “eco” into the economy and encourage forward-thinking solutions to long-term problems and challenges.

Check these sites for details

Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE): www.dsireusa.org

National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA): www.nreca.org

Rural Development, Business and Cooperative Programs: www.rurdev.usda.gov

Tax Incentives Assistance Project (TIAP): www.energy
taxincentives.org


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Sunny side up: “It’s performed better than our expectations and predictions. We’re considering adding more solar, or possibly wind turbines next year,” says Donald Lippy, co-owner of Sunnyside Farms. He and brother Ed Lippy contracted Earth and Air Technologies of Hampstead, Md., to install the operation’s solar energy system.

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SOLAR ARRAY: Nearly an acre of silicon-based photocells soak up energy for about 33% of Sunnyside Farms’ electrical power needs for four houses.

This article published in the April, 2011 edition of AMERICAN AGRICULTURIST.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.