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Incentives making solar power intriguing in N.J.

By RICHARD SKELLY
AFP Correspondent

MOUNT LAUREL (April 15, 2017) — All farmers want to minimize costs, and for those with greenhouses, monthly electric bills can be daunting.
Many have turned to solar power to offset those costs.
“New Jersey is one of the top states in the country because of state programs for anyone who owns a solar powered system here, they get tax incentives and energy credits, and the farmers are able to sell these credits, where they’re traded off on an exchange,” said Greg Weisman, owner of Luminous Solar, based in Mt. Laurel.
In addition to saving on electric bills, large and small farmers get to sell these SREC units back to the power companies, he added.
After little more than a year working for a solar company in southern California, where sunny days are much more the norm than in the Mid-Atlantic, Weisman returned to his native Philadelphia area and founded Luminous Solar in January, 2014. Weisman’s business does both residential and agricultural solar installations.
Weisman said there is a range of packages for farmers interested in using solar energy to power their greenhouses, warehouses and packaging facilities. Weisman and his team have been actively reaching out to farmers in New Jersey and Delaware while still continuing with its residential installation business around south Jersey.
“We focus on solar for farms as well as combined heat and power, which is more for greenhouse uses. We help farmers with financing and we’ll tailor our energy solutions to the farmer’s needs,” he said. “If they want a no-money down solution, we can do that. If they have capital to put down we can help with that. We can help the farmers get USDA grant monies for solar power.”
One major project Luminous Solar just completed that went online in March of this year is at the 20-acre Muzzarelli Farms vegetable growing complex in Vineland, in southern New Jersey, owned by Charlie Muzzarelli.
“We came up with a solution for him where he didn’t have to go out of pocket at all. He was able to increase his savings and reduce his carbon footprint,” Weisman said.
A network of connected solar panels, five and six feet long and four and five feet wide, each weighing about 30 or 40 pounds, were installed on the roofs of various greenhouses, packing areas and other structures at Muzzarelli Farms.
“Some of them he used for greenhouses but he also has a packing house there. One interesting thing we did there was we put panels on a couple of different buildings, so he ended up building a pretty basic canopy structure that he could put his tractors under and we put solar panels on top of that structure as well,” Weisman said.
With the Muzzarelli Farms project, “we were able to tie into just one meter on the farm; we didn’t have to tie into each of the electric meters on the farm so that simplifies things greatly.”
Luminous Solar has also been involved with Freiberger Farms, a hay farm in Allentown on the western edge of Monmouth County, and is currently finishing up an installation for Perpetual Harvest Farm, a hay farming operation in Frenchtown, just north of Trenton in Hunterdon County.
Luminous Solar offers free energy consultations and audits through on-site visits to farm facilities and has a referral program in place to help get the word out among big and small farmers in Delaware and the Garden State. The company offers a variety of leasing and ownership packages.
“We offer a program called Lock 2 Own, where farmers can lock in their current electric rates and not incur any debt for the system. Within seven to ten years they pay what they pay today and the panels are warrantied for 25 years,” Weisman said, “so they own the system without having to take on any debt, after about seven to ten years.”
Weisman said he’s optimistic about the near term for more solar powering farms.
“We’ve had a lot of interest from farmers who want to purchase the system because only the owner of the system can get USDA grant and tax incentives. And our Lock 2 Own program takes the risk out of the transaction.”
“Our goal is to get out there and educate farmers to see the benefits for themselves as well as for society. Right now, the government is trying to encourage certain behavior, to fight global warming, so they’re offering monetary incentives for people to change their ways of doing business,” he said.