Using the Sun to Cool Ice Cream

The Creamery at Woodside Farm has long been known for ice cream flavors such as Cotton Candy, Fluffer Nutter and Chocolate Thunder.

Coming soon to the creamery: solar power. That's not the latest flavor for the summertime landmark, but it will be the farm's modus operandi.

Because refrigeration is a precious commodity on a dairy farm — and one that doesn't come cheaply — owner Jim Mitchell decided to invest in a solar-energy power plant that should eventually provide up to 85 percent of the farm's power.

"I've always liked the idea of being a little independent," said Mitchell, whose family has owned and operated Woodside Farm since 1796.

When the 112-kilowatt power plant goes online in the coming weeks, Woodside Farm will be the largest solar-powered commercial venture in the state, said Delaware Energy Office spokeswoman Rachel Marcus, who noted a rise in the number of photovoltaic solar cells being installed in the state's homes and businesses.

Crews from Sun Technics/Conergy Inc. have been on the site since August, drilling footers, pouring foundations and erecting eight arrays of solar-collecting panels. Each of the eight arrays is 75 feet long and 12 feet wide.

"It took two weeks to set the posts because the soil was hardened by the drought," Mitchell said.

Tom Tursich, project manager with installer Sun Technics, said it has been a long process from the get-go: "This is not something you just call up and order and have it done in a week."

The system at the farm is known as a net metering system that feeds electricity directly into Delmarva Power's power grid

Solar inverters are attached to each array to change the solar-generated direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC) that flows in the grid. The final step in the process is for Delmarva Power to install two-way meters at the site, said company spokeswoman Bridget Shelton.

The two-way meter runs backward as well as forward, she said, tracking the electricity that the farm pours into the grid as well as the current it takes away.

Mitchell said he spends more than $20,000 a year on electricity for the farm, and refrigeration is the single biggest expense in keeping the place running. Mitchell declined to say how much he spent on the solar plant.

The main freezer at the dairy farm is a 12-by-30-foot walk-in unit that keeps its contents at a constant temperature of 15 degrees below zero. Operating the ice cream stand alone requires 10 freezer units.

According to Shelton, Woodside Farm is eligible to receive an incentive of up to 50 percent of the installed cost, up to $250,000.

The incentive is disbursed by the Delaware Green Energy Fund and paid as billing credits. If necessary, a refund check can be mailed out after the solar system has been online for a year.

The solar plant occupies about a half-acre behind the dairy farm. Mitchell plans to enclose the area with a fence and graze sheep there.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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