Improving on-farm energy efficiency

greenhouse-photoDairy and poultry operations, greenhouse facilities, and flue-cured tobacco farms in Southside and Southwest Virginia are significant consumers of energy. Farmers are challenged with rising fuel and electricity expenses that increase the cost of production and reduce already tight operating margins. Fluctuations in energy costs make budgeting more difficult.

Virginia Cooperative Extension, with financial support from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Revitalization Commission, implemented a pilot farm energy efficiency program.

“The 2010-12 program focused the attention of agricultural producers on the cost of energy that they use, energy conservation options, and opportunities to cost-share projects to reduce farm energy consumption,” said Martha Walker, Extension community viability specialist.

As part of the program, 71 farms requested on-farm energy audits and 58 completed the audit. Qualified energy auditors and trained data collectors from several firms used for the project conducted the audits.

As a result, more than $1 million in energy savings was identified, including:

  • 1,258,776 kWh electrical usage
  • 603,315 gallons propane fuel
  • 19,336 gallons fuel oil
  • 63,298 million BTUs
  • 4,315 MTCO2e greenhouse gas emissions

Approximately 76 percent of the recommended energy conservation measures have a payback period shorter than five years.

“Farmers completing an on-farm energy audit were offered a 25 percent cost share, up to $2,500 per farm, as an incentive to upgrade to energy-efficient equipment,” said Walker. “Twenty-four farms implemented the cost-saving projects identified in the audits, and 14 farms applied for USDA REAP [Rural Energy for America Program] energy conservation grants, of which 11 were successful and will receive $220,225 in funding.”

The pilot project engaged multiple Virginia partners, including the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy; USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services; USDA Rural Development; and Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation and Rural Sustainability. Because the value of energy audits in identifying cost savings for agricultural producers was validated, Extension and its partners are applying for a second grant to launch an expanded project. Award notification is expected in January 2014.

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