PHILADELPHIA — Sweetwater Valley Farm’s power will now be generated by a solar energy system that sits atop its cheese plant.
Knoxville-based Green Earth Solar finished up the 39.6-kilowatt system in May, which is made of 128 310-watt panels and is expected to generate more than 46,000 kilowatts annually.
The installation was the second project between Green Earth Solar and Sweetwater Valley owner John Harrison. Completion comes a year after Harrison installed a 50-kilowatt energy system at his Thunder Hollow Farm.
Trevor Casey, Green Earth Solar director of sales, said implementing a green energy system took “a little under a week.” The project was funded through a $20,000 United States Department of Agriculture grant.
“I don’t have much thoughts on it because it’s pretty simple. It just sits there and works,” Harrison said, laughing. “It’s pretty straight forward. It’s one of the few things that we seem to do that doesn’t require much effort. It’s pretty effortless, I guess, is how I’d describe it.
“It’s one of the few things I drive up the driveway and see and not have to worry about if it’s working that day or not or what I’m going to have to do with it that day,” he said.
Casey said the installation should save Harrison’s company about $6,500 per year on its electricity bill. The panels have a 25-year power production warranty and an expected life of “much longer,” he said.
“Just from a business decision and the financial return, and Trevor (Casey) will tell you that’s probably wore him out the hardest on to having a return that was acceptable to invest that kind of money and doing it,” Harrison said of why he installed the system. “But then on the cheese— see we did that one over there last year — but then on the cheese there... it gives us a marketing component to do it here at the cheese plant.”
Sweetwater Valley Farm makes about 25 different types of cheese, Harrison said.
Casey said Harrison should see a return on investment after about four years.
“There’s a 30 percent tax credit available and then also USDA grants, so for a lot of farms and rural businesses when you combine grants and tax credits and then TVA’s (Tennessee Valley Authority) incentive, they actually buy the power at a premium, so it reduces their electric bill considerably,” Casey said.
Green Earth Solar has worked on projects in East Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia. Some notable completions include Calhoun’s in Turkey Creek, the Knoxville Convention Center and Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Distributed Energy Communications and Controls Laboratory.
While he doesn’t have anything currently planned, Harrison said he would keep an eye out for other opportunities to go green.
“In my case, a lot of it has to do with what else you’ve got going on with your business and what your tax situation is,” Harrison said. “If we had other needs that would do the same thing tax wise, you need to be able to take advantage of the tax credits.”