In 1998 when Bill Suhr bought Champlain Orchards in Shoreham, Vt. he anticipated harvesting apples, and lots of them.
Suhr is now also harvesting the sun with two new 60kW solar orchards in a 21st century effort to improve sustainability and insulate the apple orchard from rising energy costs.
With 130 acres of apple trees, Champlain Orchards picks, packs, and processes 3 million pounds of apples annually. The entire operation is now 100 percent renewable in its electric use.
Champlain Orchards sells apples, sweet, hard, and ice ciders, pies and more to Hannaford’s, local co-ops, Vermont Hard Cider Company, schools, and colleges, including the University of Vermont, St. Michaels, and Middlebury College.
Each of the two solar orchards consists of 14 pole-mounted dual-axis AllSun solar trackers that use GPS and wireless technology to follow the sun throughout the day, boosting their energy production.
The two projects will produce approximately 165,000 kWh per year and supply the energy for the orchard’s main campus, refrigeration, processing equipment, offices, and seasonal housing.
“It’s astonishing how dependent we are on outside energy systems. As farmers and business-owners that value independence, we wanted to do something that better utilizes our own local resources more fully. And this solarallows us to do just that,” said Suhr, who owns the orchard with his wife Andrea Scott.
The AllSun Trackers are manufactured locally by AllEarth Renewables of Williston, Vt., which uses innovative technology to boost solar energy production by up to 45 percent over roof-top installations. The ground-mounted solar systems are designed for homes, businesses, non-profits, and commercial-scale installations.
Suhr also values the educational component of on-site solar. “When educating people about local food when they come to pick or buy our apples, we can also educate them on energy. They can see it. I’m hoping this allows more people to appreciate renewable energy use.”
“Bill and Andrea at Champlain Orchards know intimately the power of the sun in making their business successful. More and more, people are understanding they can make both a financially sound decision and a sustainable decision,” said David Blittersdorf, CEO of AllEarth Renewables.
AllEarth Renewables, Vermont’s fastest growing company in 2010 and 2011, employs 25 full-time staff and has designed, manufactured, and installed over 1,300 complete grid-connected solar tracker systems.
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