H & J Wright Family Farm was one of several projects in Delaware to recently receive a USDA investment in energy efficiency improvements to help lower energy costs.
USDA announced in August that it had invested, through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), $9.3 million for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects across the nation. Congress appropriated $50 million for REAP grants and loan guarantees in fiscal year 2019. Additional funding announcements are expected in coming weeks.
Recipients can use REAP funding for a variety of needs, such as conducting energy audits and installing renewable energy systems such as biomass, geothermal, hydropower and solar. Funds also can be used to make energy efficiency improvements to heating, ventilation and cooling systems; insulation; and lighting and refrigeration.
So far, all of the Delaware recipients used the funds to help defray costs of installing a solar array system. The Wrights in Delmar learned about the federal funding opportunity from Paradise Energy Solutions.
“They told us we could apply for more, but they were pretty sure we could get $20,000 to help defray the cost,” said Herbert Wright.
“The only way these solar projects are feasible is with government loans and grants. They’re not affordable for the average person without help.”
Asked if he had been farming all his life, Wright quipped, “I hope not.” Son of the late Warner Lee and Isabel Wright, he grew up on the farm in Delmar and is the third generation there. He attended University of Delaware and came back after graduation. “I’m still here,” he declared.
Wright and his son, Jeff, raise turkeys, butternut squash, watermelons, cucumbers and corn and soybeans. The turkeys are kept in small houses, with some access to the outdoors. Retail sales are handled directly out of the Wrights’ farm.
The Wrights had looked into solar systems a couple of years ago and finally decided to go with the project. The system, completed in February, consists of three rows of panels, 100 feet long, that are free standing in a pasture.
“They talked about putting the panels of the roof of the shed,” Wright said. “I said I wouldn’t do the project if they needed to do that.” A system on the ground is much more efficient, Wright added.
Paradise Energy was very nice about the whole project, he said. “They brought to our attention things about our electric bill we didn’t know. They were very helpful.”
Wright was not happy to be surprised with high closing costs on a loan from Delaware Sustainable Energy Utility. DESEU is a nonprofit organization created by the State of Delaware “to foster a sustainable energy future.” Through a revolving loan fund, DESEU encourages the purchase and installation of end-user energy efficiency measures and customer-sited renewable generation.
“I could have gotten a loan from Farm Credit,” Wright said, “but not at a 2 percent interest rate.”
Papers had been signed in early September, but at the end of the year, Wright’s attorney informed him closing costs would be $6,500.
When Wright questioned DESEU about the charges, it was explained that the costs were higher because the solar panels were standing in-ground, with ground contact.
“Irrigation systems have more contact with the ground than this,” Wright said. “There are only 18 posts in the ground holding the whole system.”
He complained to his state representative. The incident left “a bad taste” in his mouth, he said.
Asked if, knowing what he now knows, he would undertake the solar project again, Wright said, “I don’t know. It does look like our electric bill is down. We are getting a credit. At least I would know the pitfalls.”