Lebanon’s Little Seed Farm transitions to solar power

Published November 6, 2015

The Tennessean – Jen Todd – November 5, 2015

When James and Eileen Ray moved to their Lebanon farm from New York City, they wanted to it be as sustainable as possible.

The Little Seed Farm owners hand make goat’s milk soap, and their goats graze a different patch of pasture every few days. Dogs protect the animals, guineas eat the ticks, a garden produces vegetables.

But the last leap of their dream was absent — until September. The entire farm — and their home — is now completely solar powered.

“We were so excited that we got the grant and we were able to do it,” Eileen Ray said. “It was like Christmas.”

The two 44-panel arrays angle toward the sun in a field near the Rays’ home, soaking up the sun’s energy. At about 70 feet long, this was one of LightWave Solar’s largest projects at a residence this year.

Meters on the back of the panels detect how many kilowatt-hours have been collected that day, often times more than the farm uses.

“Since we’ve installed it, even with these cloudy days we’ve had pretty much half the time, we’ve generated over 20 percent of what we’ve used,” James Ray said.

And it makes them some money.

A $75,000 project, the transition was an investment. But after a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Energy for America Program, a 30 percent tax break from the federal government and $1,000 reimbursement from the Tennessee Valley Authority, their out-of-pocket expenses dropped to $33,000.

Any additional electricity generated TVA will buy at a premium rate — meaning it will pay 2 extra cents per kilowatt-hour — for 10 years.

“They’ll send you a check,” James Ray said. “It’ll take three to five years depending on solar production to recoup our money.”

The financial help made their dream attainable, but the biggest draw is the benefit to the environment.

“I know that the majority of carbon emissions come from coal, natural gas, basically unclean energy sources, and much of our country is run off of that,” Eileen Ray said. “I feel like every little bit (of clean energy) helps.”

This isn’t the first time the Rays have applied for grants. Their irrigation system — drinking water for the goats — was provided by an EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) grant.

“The Department of Agriculture really likes (rotational grazing), if you do that,” Eileen Ray said. “So they’ll help you out with water.”

After the process of acquiring funds, the transition to solar was smooth. They dug trenches for Lightwave Solar to put wire in the ground.

They now charge a battery directly from the panel and use it to charge the goats’ electric fence.

“We can still pull energy off the grid as needed,” James Ray said. “We still have the same access to power as we used to; it’s just we’re feeding back more than we’re using now.”

TVA calculated how much they used in a year to provide 125 percent of the energy. So Little Seed Farm has room to grow.

And if it grows even more, the Rays will add an extra panel.