February on the Farm

February 22, 2017

From snow to solar…

I wrote last month telling you about my transition to our 5-acre mini farm. Our previous garden (and house) is now pending sale. We are slowly adjusting to life at the farm and seem to discover something new about the property every day. In the month of February, we’ve experienced some snow and ice, and A LOT of rain. We’ve had a few spring like days as well, which has got me really itching to start a handful of new projects at the farm.


Snow on the farm

Snow on the farm

Sadly, we also lost one duck and the next day lost one goose.  We’re not entirely sure what got them, but we did figure out after some troubleshooting that our electric fence had not been working properly, so it is likely that some hungry predator (dog, coyote, bobcat?) got through in the night. The gander has been even more protective since then, hissing and coming after me as I feed them (so ungrateful), although I can’t say that I blame him after what he must have experienced when two of his flock were taken right before his eyes.  I imagine he feels somewhat responsible. Or it’s getting close to nesting season. I know that losing animals is part of farm life but it’s not a part that I expected to happen so soon.

Sherman and birds

Sherman and birds

A few days later we had a close call with our sheep (whom we recently named Sherman).  I came out to feed him on a very cold and icy morning and as I entered the barn I saw him lying there not moving.  I walked slowly over to him, afraid of what I might find, and he looked up at me with his woolly little face and sad eyes.  He then tried to move but his front legs were trapped underneath the weight of his heavy arthritic body. I ran back to the house to let John know what was happening.  He agreed that (as soon as he got out of the shower) he would come assess the situation. I feared the worst for our old sheep, that his time had come.

Sherman the sheep


He is the last living sheep of a flock that the previous owners had that we agreed to keep (along with the ducks and geese) rather than make him move from the only home he’d ever known. Once  dressed, John came out with me to assess the situation. He crouched down in a dead-lift position and attempted to lift Sherman up to his feet.  Sherman could not do much to help himself and he was just too big to move.  John asked me to grab his back end and help. Really? Dressed in my work clothes I wrapped my arms around his (filthy) back end and lifted his hind quarters.  It worked! Sherman stood up and slowly hobbled out of the barn. He turned around and looked back at us as if to say “thank you”. I can’t tell you how relieved I was.  He seems to be doing well now and – I might be imagining this — but I think he has a newfound trust in us. He walks in the barn with me and lets me a little closer to him. He has even let me pet him a few times since.

Solar layout

Solar panels on the barn

As I mentioned in my last post, solar is something I have always been interested in. Early in the month we had a visit from Anders from A&R Solar. After his visit with us and seeing our property he provided us with a quote and a cost breakdown, along with an estimate of the incentives and time to recoup the cost of solar system. Our project needs be reviewed by a structural engineer to see if we can use our existing south-facing barn to mount them on. If it turns out that we can, it looks like we will be installing the panels this spring!

If you have ever considered solar this is a great time to look further into it, especially if you live in Snohomish County like we do, as SnoPUD has some of the best incentives which are currently good through 2020.  The 30% tax credit the first year is also a great incentive. We were pleasantly surprised to see that our system will pay itself off in approx. 5-6 years.  In addition to that we will be generating our own clean energy which just feels good.  I asked Anders some questions about solar that I thought might be helpful if you too are interested in solar:

What is the question you get asked most frequently about solar?

Does it work in the NW? – The general knowledge on solar is very low, it is actually one of the greatest barriers to adoption. People don’t know how solar works, they don’t know how they get charged for electricity and they don’t know about federal, state and local incentives for solar.

What is the biggest misconception people have about solar?

Price and Cost! I find that many people treat solar like a cost with no return and only look at the upfront price and give that more weight over the true price after incentives. Also, I can show 2 people the same quote and one will run away from me and the other will hug me in gratitude, it all comes down to personal perception.

What is the biggest barrier/resistance to more people installing solar?

Besides customers dealing with their own financial situation, its caps in the net metering and incentive programs. Net meter has a low cap, often 0.5% of a utility’s generation. Solar only happens when the state government allows it in the first place and then increases the caps along the way. I was in California in 2011 when a big fight was underway to get the net metering cap from 0.5% to 2%, we got it passed but were on the verge of the entire state industry hitting the cap with nowhere to go.

These laws and programs get attacked by dirty energy interests and the politicians who are funded by dirty energy. The real source of their problem with solar is loss of profits to a new energy source. It makes me think of the advocacy for horse and carriage when the automobile industry was on the rise, decrying the loss of the horse industry was a big push back against using gas powered vehicles for transportation and construction. Imagine still having to saddle up 50 horses to move construction material around town?

Who is a great candidate for solar?

Any home or business owner wanting to power their life with sunshine and values, in real terms, the changes they are making in their own life, their community, and the world.

What is the best location for solar on my property?

South facing roof and limited shade, on a roof or on the ground. East and West roofs are fine too, and we can deal with shade to an extent.

How much energy do I need to generate to make solar work for me?

Every person has a system sized to their home. Systems range from 2kW (7 panels) to 15kW (50 panels) or sometimes more for residential, commercial installs can be huge. We start with the size of the utility bill, then to the size of good roof or ground space, then we can go down from there. Most people maximize their best spot for solar with the highest production and just let the system be that size.

What is the average cost of a typical solar system?

$12k-$40k, all depends on site, panel number and equipment selection. Number of panels affects the price the most. This is the price paid to the installer, real price is lower when you count in incentives.

What is the average time frame to recoup the cost of a solar system?

This is different for every locality and home, and changes over time. I’ve had it as low as 4 years and as long as 20 years. For Washington, Snohomish County and wherever the utility PSE is tend to be the best places. They have the highest prices for electricity and thus you get more savings from solar.

How do I know if I am a good candidate for solar?

It’s all about south facing panels and low to no shade. A solar installer will provide advice, design and quotes for free. An installer will also tell you immediately if you do not have a site for solar, or what you can do to improve it. I have installed on new garages built just for solar, ground mounts, and other creative solutions.

What financial incentives are there to help pay for the cost?

Federal return on your taxes through a credit, WA State program, Net Metering, and SnoPUD has an extra incentive too. Solar also increases the value of your home.

A&R also has our referral program of $100/kW up to $500. This is both a discount to the new customer and a check back to the customer that made the referral.

When is the best time to install solar?

Always. Your roof is getting older, you are getting older, incentive programs give out less money over time. Some people like to wait until the end of the year to get an install to decrease the time between install and getting their 30% federal tax credit, but they also miss out on an entire summer’s worth of production, and in Washington a typical summer day can produce 3x that of a winter’s day.

What is the lifespan of most solar systems?

25 year warranties, panels will last longer than that but they do decrease production over time. The highest end panels can do well over 40 years. As long as they are working, it’s fine to use them. The first solar cell ever created by Bell laboratories still produces energy.

What type of maintenance do solar systems require?

The inverter or online monitoring is the best window into the system, this will tell you if it is on at all and then if it is producing as it should. If you detect a problem the installer should troubleshoot and then work with the manufacturer to fix the problem. Most installers have 10 year warranties, and after that they will still fix the system but they will charge for the work.

Panels should also be kept clean. No need to keep them pristine, but they should be cleaned once every 1-3 years to keep the glass on top free of gunk.

How does solar compare to other renewable energy options such as geo-thermal, wind, etc.?

Every renewable energy source is particular to the site. You may have bedrock not too far down and not be able to do geothermal, you might have too much shade and not be good for solar, and the wind might not blow on your property strong enough. Each on-site energy source needs to be reviewed to see how and if it can be used on that site. Its hard to compare them as they do different things in different ways, some sites might be perfect for one technology but not another, so it’s all locality based.

Do you have other questions about solar?  Feel free to contact A&R solar or check out their FAQs




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