Solar power research project under way

By Daniel Richardson

Is solar power an economically viable option for poultry farms? Research is under way in Laurel to answer this question. Allen Family Foods' CEO Charles C. Allen has opened up one of the company's chicken houses to a team of researchers who will determine the economic impact on farmers of using solar energy to power heat, air conditioning and lights. Over the next three years, University of Delaware researchers will monitor the farm and record data. Government officials and representatives of the University of Delaware, local environmental agencies and the poultry industry gathered in the pouring rain at the farm for a ribbon cutting on Wednesday, April 4. Speakers, including UD president David Roselle, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, U.S. Sen. Thomas Carper and Allen, all said that they are behind this effort. Minner noted that "this is a tremendous opportunity...clearly something our state cannot afford to miss out on." The cost of energy has been on the rise for the past 12 months in Delaware. According to Carper, Delaware consumes the most amount of energy during the summer months when the tourists arrive and the air conditioning units are used. The rising energy costs affect farmers and consumers in a big way. Chicken houses require precise temperatures, ventilation and lights for birds. Poultry farmers foot the energy bills and rising energy costs mean higher consumer costs. Since Delaware's largest industry is agriculture, the state has an interest in advancing agricultural technology. The entire cost of the solar energy project at the Portsville Road farm is $500,000, but the Delaware Green Energy Program will give a $250,000 rebate to the project. The true cost of a solar facility would be less because part of the money for this project was spent on the research and monitoring equipment.

Other incentives for building a solar facility include federal and state tax credits, renewable energy grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the ability to earn Green Credits. These credits represent the environmental benefit of using renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. The credits can be sold to businesses or individuals who wish to support the use of clean energy. Although the project is mainly about determining the economic viability of solar facilities on the poultry farms, the environmental impact was not lost on the speakers. Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary John Hughes commented that "this operation takes the place of 101 mature trees." Trees need carbon dioxide and help to reduce the amount of it in the atmosphere. This is beneficial to the environment because carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. Scientists say that excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are causing climate change. This is the first solar powered chicken house in the nation and the state of Delaware is helping to move the agriculture industry in the direction of a more environmentally friendly, renewable type of energy to run its operations. "This is the right thing to do and I'm glad to be here today," said Hughes. Those participating in the project are Allen Family Foods Inc., the University of Delaware, General Electric, WorldWater and Power Corp., DNREC and the State Department of Agriculture. Power Corp. is responsible for most of the machinery behind the project. The solar facility, known as a photovoltaic system, will generate energy for the chicken house and store excess energy in a battery. The stored surplus will either be used for the facility at a later time or sold to Delmarva Power. Any additional energy needed on the farm will be provided by Delmarva Power. As well as examining the cost of the project, the researchers will test the state by determining how long it takes to get rebates and tax credits from the Delaware Green Energy Fund. Allen had a message for others in the poultry industry. "Please realize this project is for you," he said.

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