Here comes the sun

Decker’s Nursery looks to solar power to benefit the bottom line and the environment.

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Adobe Stock

Decker’s Nursery in Groveport, Ohio, is in the midst of a $250,000 solar project. The nursery is working with Ecohouse Solar to install two solar panel systems that will provide all the electric for its propagation barns and greenhouse which equals the size of three football fields. Decker’s, which is approaching its 100th year, provides local and national retail and growers with wholesale shrub liners, specialty conifer grafts and finished material.

Recently, Nursery Management editor Kelli Rodda sat down with Pam Dukes, special projects director at Decker’s, to find out more about this new solar project.

Nursery Management: What is the scope of the project?

Pam Dukes: We are installing two solar panel projects on our propagation side of the nursery. We have multiple electric meters throughout the nursery and are currently targeting two meters with the solar system.

One meter covers a barn, our actual propagation production area and part of a 400-foot tunnel. We have a total of 24 propagation greenhouses — 12 north and 12 south extending on each side of the tunnel that utilize energy to monitor mist systems, irrigation, fans, radiant in-floor heating systems, etc.

The second meter covers the balance of the 400-foot tunnel and associated greenhouses and a 3-acre greenhouse with computerized weather systems that trigger automated greenhouse roof adjustments based on environment diagnostics.

With an average nursery kilowatt per hour use of around 200,000 kwh a year, we are working on eliminating 48% of our current electric costs by implementing the two solar panel systems, and more importantly this mass consumption and its impact on the environment.

NM: What started the nursery even thinking about solar?

PD: It’s the right thing to do. This has been on our radar for years, and we were looking for the right opportunity. The reduction in price of solar panels and materials, as well as the government tax incentive made this year the right year for us. On top of using the sun to power us, we can also sell our SRECs (solar renewable energy credits), which is power generated but not used, back to the power company.

NM: What infrastructure is required?

PD: Part of our vendors program was to have electrical and structural engineers out to tour the structure and address any concerns. Direction and roof grade are taken into consideration to maximize the system recommendations. Fortunately, Decker’s Nursery builds ‘old school’ and our building is not only positioned optimally, the structural integrity can handle additional irrigation piping and the weight of the solar panels with ease.

NM: What are the pros and cons?

PD: The pros: we will reduce or eliminate our electric bills associated with those two meters, and over a year, the savings really add up. Solar will also give us a leg up on having control over rising energy costs. We can receive credit on our solar power produced but not used, and this adds to our savings and helps make the payoff period shorter. And the environment — one of our vendors shared that our system would be like removing 470 cars from service for one year, or the equivalent of 57,675 trees planted and grown for 10 years. Everyone can relate to those comparisons! The cons: Other than a temporary added workload to execute the project and managing the investment of this project — both of which we are happy to do — I have not come across any major cons. I will say that this should not be considered as a huge money maker and credit programs on SRECs vary from state to state, something to research prior to the commitment for sure, but likely not a barrier to proceeding with the project.

NM: How do you expect to benefit from it?

PD: Cost savings, helping the environment, being an industry influencer and it just feels good!

Cost savings and helping the environment are very important to Decker’s Nursery. If we can lead by example and hopefully influence others in our industry by sharing our experience and generate more solar projects, that will benefit not only our environment, but their bottom lines, as well.

NM: In general, what were your energy costs prior to solar and what do you expect to save?

PD: Based on the last 12 months usage for just two of our meters being outfitted with solar energy, we are looking at an annual savings of almost $25,000 on our electric bill.

NM: Were you able to apply for grants to help offset the costs?

PD: After heavily researching, we did not take advantage of the grants. It was a timing issue. The variables to eligibility and the likelihood of being awarded a grant are comparable to a lottery situation, and the grant application is not a simple process. If you have a larger scale project, are willing to work with and pay a grant writer and the timing allows (such as cut off dates of grant application periods) then it is certainly an opportunity for possible savings. Keep in mind that, depending on the size of your project, a grant writer fee can start at $5,000.

NM: Did you look at other alternatives?

PD: In a nutshell, no. We have had our eye on solar options for a while and our next step was to take advantage of the tax credit offered by the government.

NM: What advice would you give other nurseries considering solar?

PD: Do it! Not only for the long-term savings, but for the environment as well.

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