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Bartlett's Farm grows its solar farm

As part of its ongoing commitment to sustainability on Massachusetts' Nantucket Island, Bartlett's Farm-with Dynamic Energy-recently completed a 1.4-MW ground-mounted solar installation, adjacent to a 595- kW system that Dynamic built for the farm in 2017

By Robin Brunet

With more than 100 acres of open fields for growing produce and flowers, 20 acres devoted to certified organic produce, and 40 greenhouses, Bartlett's Farm is Nantucket Island's oldest and largest family-owned farm. It is also a destination for locals and tourists, who flock to the market, garden center, and kitchen during Nantucket's on- and off-seasons.

The Massachusetts farm, which was established in 1843, is an icon of the tiny, isolated summer recreation mecca. And as the local economy has expanded over the decades, the farm has adapted to serve a growing customer base but in a careful, sustainable manner.

"As a member of the sixth generation of farmers, I, my two brothers, and sister, along with my dad and four nephews, have always been very aware of the island's limited resources," says John Bartlett, the farm's president. "We've always made do with what we have, and we keenly appreciate that power for the entire island is supplied by two 5-megawatt cables from the mainland, with backup generators."

That's why anyone lucky enough to fly over scenic Nantucket and the Bartlett's Farm property will notice a large field planted with something other than vegetables: two massive solar panel arrays, each 12 rows in size, their distinct blue tint in keeping with the agriculturally-organized greater landscape.

The installations were created in two phases by solar power provider Dynamic Energy of Pennsylvania, and consist of a 1.4-megawatt ground-mounted system adjacent to a 595-kilowatt system. With a total solar capacity of nearly 2 MW, the installations produce approximately 2.6 million kWhs of electricity annually, offsetting all of the energy needs of Bartlett's Farms.

They are also a reliable and cost-effective source of clean energy for Massachusetts, as the project offsets 2,100 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually enough to power more than seven percent of the island's households.

 
  

Pat Hastings, director and project management at Dynamic Energy, calls the arrays a happy outcome "of a family business that is truly committed to sustainability and our interest in offering our services throughout Massachusetts, along with other Eastern seaboard states."

The project was also serendipitous in that the Bartlett family was keen on solar's potential as an energy source. "Previously we had invested in wind technology and had eight turbines on our property ranging from five to 35 kilowatts," Bartlett says. "Our intention was to power the farm and reduce costs as well as our carbon footprint. But while we believe strongly in that particular method of energy generation, our particular system didn't work out so well."

Hastings says: "In 2016 we had sales people all over Massachusetts looking for potential new clients. We'd been active for a while in the state because its incentive programs provide many opportunities for clean, renewable energy."

Shortly after being greeted by one of the salesmen, Bartlett became enthusiastic about solar power's potential. "And when we decided to invest in an array, the people at Dynamic Energy helped us work through the financials and provided us with different options," he says. "The array we ultimately chose met the criteria for a certain set of state financial incentives, and generally speaking we had a good feeling about Dynamic's capabilities."

Founded in 2007, Dynamic Energy and its in-house engineers, electricians, and other professionals design, finance, build, and maintain projects for a variety of sectors. Clients in Massachusetts alone include Brookfield Wire Company Inc., where a two-megawatt ground-mount solar array was installed in 2016 that is estimated to produce nearly 2.6 million kWh of power yearly, enough to power more than 300 homes. (Dynamic provided all development and construction services.) In total, Dynamic Energy has successfully developed more than 50 MW of solar photovoltaic projects as part of the state's Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program.

 
Anyone flying over the Bartlett's Farm property will notice a large field planted with something other than vegetables: two massive solar panel arrays, each 12 rows in size, their distinct blue tint in keeping with the agriculturally organized greater landscape. 
  

The Bartlett project was noteworthy due to its location. Given that it was a functioning farm, the arrays needed to maximize power yield within an efficient footprint. Also, an alternative was needed to heavy construction equipment and grading machinery, which would interrupt and possibly damage farm operations. Finally, the arrays needed to be aesthetically pleasing.

Dynamic engaged DCE Solar to collaborate in the design and planning, and it was determined that DCE Solar's Contour DB would be an ideal solution for the first phase because the adaptable base unit could accommodate slopes of up to 20 degrees, thus eliminating the need for grading.

Contour presented a smooth, sleek appearance. "The entire array was located on a downward slope and would be fairly unobtrusive," Bartlett says.

DCE's racking system with its small number of components and ease of installation kept costs down due to reduced man-hours required on site.

 
 The Bartlett Farm project was noteworthy due to its location. Given that it was a functioning farm, the arrays needed to maximize power yield within an efficient footprint. Also, an alternative was needed to heavy construction equipment and grading machinery, which would interrupt and possibly damage-farm operations. Finally, the arrays needed to be aesthetically pleasing.
  

The Contour jig assembly allows for greater module installation efficiency, which greatly reduces labor costs and ensures perfect panel placement, says the company. DCE Solar says its Contour Ground Mounting Structures are topographically adaptable ground-mount PV racking systems, and can be installed in any soil type. The company adds that its structures are an excellent alternative to tracking systems, and require less ongoing maintenance. The system is said to save time and money, with less site grading required.

Installation took place between March and May of 2017, and when the 1,782 PV panels became operational, the energy produced was enough to power all of the farm's restaurant and retail operations plus a significant portion of the farming operations. "It did what it was supposed to do, and we were very pleased with the results," Bartlett says.

Hastings, who acted as project manager for both phases, notes, "The panel modules used in the first phase were each 325 watts, the highest wattage then available. But when it came time to undertake phase two of the project last year, 365-watt panels of the same footprint and 72-cell composition had become available. So we went with those."

 
The Bartlett Farm installations were created in two phases by solar power provider Dynamic Energy of Pennsylvania, and consist of a 1.4-megawatt ground-mounted system adjacent to a 595-kilowatt system. 
  

The first system, energized in July 2017, features 1,782 Jinko 325 watt modules, and 11 Chint Power Systems America 36 kw inverters, and a DCE Solar Contour racking system.

The second system was energized in December 2019 and has 3,840 Jinko 365 watt modules, and 20 Chint Power Systems 50 kW inverters, and the DCE Solar Contour racking system.

The Bartlett family was keen to launch the second phase in the summer of 2019. "Given the reliable performance of the first array, this time we wanted an array that would feed directly into the regional grid," Bartlett explains. "Again, we had identified a state incentive that would be appropriate for our needs, and the project was our modest attempt to reduce overall energy load on the island otherwise, Nantucket over time would require a third undersea power cable from the mainland, an enormously expensive proposal."

For the record, the incentive in which the Bartlett family participated, SMART, is a long-term sustainable solar incentive program that began with 17 projects totalling 53.273 MW of solar PV. In November of 2018, SMART became available to solar PV projects of all types and sizes, up to five MW per project.

Installation took place between April and August, and Hastings says of both phases: "Initially I was concerned about the biggest challenge facing us: transportation. All deliveries to Nantucket are made by ferry boat, and for both phases we required about 50 truck deliveries of equipment. Fortunately, the trips from Hyannis Port went smoothly, and we were able to secure affordable accommodations on the island.

"In fact, during the off-season months, it was quite amusing to take the ferries at 6 a.m., because they were loaded with contractors who had been retained to repair homes and other island infrastructure. Such are the cycles of activity on an island like Nantucket."

On a personal level, the most memorable aspects of the project for Hastings were his interactions with the Bartlett family. "Without exception, they were friendly and accommodating, and John is a great guy to work with."

For his part, Bartlett is happy to use his solar arrays as a jumping off point to discuss the benefits of renewable energy to inquiring media and farm visitors, and he says he's open to future sustainable energy projects. However, civic leaders are still debating the need for a third undersea power cable from the mainland to Nantucket. "Small rooftop solar projects have been taking place on the island recently, but I would love to see bigger projects involving solar and wind," he says.

So would Hastings, who points out that Dynamic Energy remains enthusiastic about forging collaborations with new clients. "Future projects on Nantucket would have to involve owners with a lot of land in order to truly make a difference, but Massachusetts overall remains a very promising state," he says. "As we speak, we have a few projects underway on the mainland as well as in Illinois and New York, plus projects in development in Virginia and Maine.

"In short, we're busy, and it's exciting that so many policy makers are realizing the benefits of solar."

 


Fall 2020