Updated: Jun 23, 2020
This visionary maple producer is tapping into the power of the sun—with sweet results!
Joe Russo loves maple syrup. The Vermont maple farmer has spent much of his life trying to perfect the art. Unlike the typical large-scale production method, his 60,000-tap operation uses steam-heat to bring the sap to a boil rather than using direct heat. Not only does the steam process make the maple taste exquisite, but it also significantly reduces the facility’s carbon footprint because it's less energy-intensive than traditional production. About two years ago, Joe decided to double down on his green goals and add solar to the equation.
It Pays to Go Green
An easy way to understand the ecological—and financial—impact of this project is to look at Joe’s electric bill. During peak season, the sugaring operation uses a lot of electricity: “I probably use $30,000 in electricity in 3 months at the sugarhouse," Joe said.
Joe was determined to not just to go big, but to make it such an economically viable decision that he’d see his return on investment almost immediately. Green Mountain Solar gave him the offer he needed to do just that. “I didn’t want to buy into these large projects,” he said, referring to large solar installers. “If you carefully calculate the rate of return, they are not as good. They look good, but they are not as good for the long term.”
A return on investment is a reasonable request; however, Joe’s 33.6 kW roof-mounted solar array quickly exceeded expectations. Ninty-six LG 350-watt NeonR monocrystalline solar modules were installed to the roofs of his garage and shed on at his home. Many people would look at this system and say that it is oversized for a home—but that was the point! The primary purpose was to generate excess energy that goes to his maple operation on his other property.
Joe has lived at his residence in Alburgh for six years and he stated that he has used 36 megawatts during that time. But in just two years of having the system, he produced almost double that amount of energy. While this is not an average-sized system, it is a prime example that all solar customers get to enjoy a hefty rate of return—it just happened to come sooner in Joe’s case.
A Commitment to YOU
“Every time I call Paul, he is there,” Joe said referring to Paul Lesure, the general manager and partner at Green Mountain Solar. Joe did his homework and did not just reach out to choose a random guy for this large installation. And he couldn’t be happier with his choice: “The guys came and it was flawless,” he says, proudly displaying a placard on one of the structures sporting the panels at his residence. “It was not intrusive at all.”
Solar Energy Potential for All
At the end of the day, Joe sees solar as turning a problem into the solution. Joe recalled one day WCAX asked a simple question: “What happens in Vermont in the summer at 2 pm?” For most people, 2 o’clock in the afternoon is peak load in terms of pulling power from the grid (think fans, air conditioners, etc.). But lately in Vermont, due to the rise of interest in solar and net metering programs, many people are able to put excess energy generated back into the grid. Therefore, we are seeing load at a low level for the same reason it used to be high: The sun is beating down. In Joe’s words: “That’s huge!”
Local partnerships have lasting benefits. Joe’s sticking with his Vermont trees. And Green Mountain Solar, based in Williston, installs systems across the state for everyday Vermonters. For both, the dedication to keeping it local made this project so successful. “I think you guys have unlimited potential,” said Joe as he elaborated on his hope that the solar industry maintains momentum as the transition to clean energy has never been more important.
By J. Stromberg
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