Celebrity Dairy receives REAP grant for solar array

In 2018, Celebrity Dairy Farm in Siler City, NC, requested services from the NC Clean Energy Technology Center (NCCETC) to perform an energy audit and preliminary solar photovoltaic assessment under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant. The farm will soon be home to a new ground-mount solar array.

The goat dairy farm, owned by Brit and Fleming Pfann, houses about 64 Alpine and Saanen goats, producing both goat cheese and gelato. The farm was built in 1987 with an expansion as a Bed & Breakfast Inn in 1998. The property includes 330 acres of land, including the Inn, milk parlor, composting site, and managed woodlands.

The Pfanns have strived to be energy efficient since the farm was first built – making incremental strides here and there when economically feasible through the years – such as putting in ground-source heat pumps in the Inn and installing a few solar panels on another roof. 

“We’ve always been interested in energy conservation,” Brit Pfann said. “It’s been a life-long thing.”

In fact, they were already committed to installing a solar array even if they didn’t receive the REAP grant – “but if we can cut the costs down a quarter, that’s way better,” Pfann said.

The B&B Inn operates year-round, relying on uninterrupted electrical power. According to NCCETC’s energy audit, the annual cheese production averages about 12 to 15 thousand pounds of goat cheese a year. The total average monthly bill is about $680, with the summer months being the peak months at around $850. 

The Pfanns use a 50kW standby diesel generator capable of servicing the combined electrical loads of both the Inn and the Dairy, according to a report by Celebrity Dairy. The generator was installed adjacent to the Inn’s electrical service connection, and the two previously separate meters at the Inn and Dairy services merged into one unified service. The unified electrical service for both the Inn and Dairy is a residential TOU (time of use) account, which gives them credit for actively managing peak electrical load with an energy management system. Payment of the single electrical bill is prorated between the two businesses.

NCCETC’s energy audit took a look at the farm’s light fixtures, vacuum pumps, fridges and freezers, fans, water heaters – everything using energy on the farm – and went through its total estimated energy consumption.

“The audit helped us quantify and prioritize a list of things to look at,” Pfann said.

The planned solar PV system will be ground-mounted and located in a field adjacent to the electrical service connection. Its design capacity is 28kW to be produced by a 4 panel by 22 array of 88 solar panels, according to the report. As with the farm’s standby generator, the PV array will be connected to the electrical service panel, providing supplementary electrical power to both the Inn and the Dairy. The new array will control the property’s peak energy demands during the day, helping save a great amount of money on their bill. 

Pfann said he’s looking forward to comparing his old and new energy bills after the array is installed.

“The solar mount will generate about half the energy we use here,” Pfann said.

When asked if Pfann had other hopeful energy projects in the future: “There’s always more possibilities,” he said.

This story is part of an ongoing series. Stay tuned for the next phase of Celebrity Dairy Farm’s journey – when the solar array is installed – and to learn more about Pfann’s future energy efficiency plans.

Over a 2-year project timeline, NCCETC completed a total of 12 energy audits, identifying a total of $48,000 in cost savings and 324,000 kWh reductions. Through funds provided by the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), NCCETC provided on-site energy efficiency audits at a 75% discount. 

The USDA REAP program made energy experts from NC State University accessible to agricultural producers, as well as businesses in rural areas that often see higher costs in fixed expenses like utility bills. Results of the audits can be used to apply for USDA grants or loan guarantees to implement the very energy-saving reductions or improvements presented by NC State University. Candidates can be rural small businesses and agricultural producers (urban or rural) in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. The NCCETC is not presently a recipient of USDA REAP funding, which allows for these kinds of services at a reduced rate, but the energy extension group does provide the same support as a fee for service structure. To learn more about NCCETC’s services, visit https://nccleantech.ncsu.edu/ or contact the Clean Power & Industrial Efficiency team at 919-515-0903 or kjconley@ncsu.edu.