Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie photo
Keith Bishop and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy Thursday at the farm (Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie photo)

GUILFORD, CT — U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy visited five locales in and around New Haven on Thursday to highlight steps businesses and organizations are taking to be more efficient and energy conscious.

On a tour in Guilford at Bishop’s Orchards solar farm with state officials and Rep. Sean Scanlon, D- Guilford, Bishop’s Co-CEO Keith Bishop showed off the recently completed second solar 360 kW installation across from the iconic Bishop’s grocery store.

“Going solar, especially in a business our size, is an investment,” Bishop said. “But it’s an investment that has a return.”

Bishop’s Orchards solar project is the largest Connecticut farm energy project undertaken to date.

There are two systems on the farm. One system installed is on 1.1 acres and consists of 1,108 panels in 17 rows. The second array is on the roof of the farm market, consisting of 381 panels.

The combined panels are 477 kW DC and are expected to produce 596,700 KWh per year. According to Bishop that will offset about 80 percent of the farm’s annual electricity usage.

Total annual electricity usage at the farm is 668,000 kWh with an annual cost of $106,000.

Bishop told Murphy the site selected for the ground-mounted system is a hillside with shallow soil and rock ledge that “you can’t farm on.”

“Our vision is to preserve and enhance the value of the land for current and future generations,” Bishop said of the farm that has been in family for close to 150 years.

Bishop said that if all goes according to plan, the system, when factoring all the grants received, will have paid for itself in eight years. “And it’s a system that should last 20 years or more so we’re ahead of the game,” Bishop said.

Bishop said his family members and their farm operation have been “longtime stewards of the environment and healthy eating for the community. For us it’s a matter of pride to operate our family business in a way that reduces energy costs and also lowers our carbon footprint.”

“We need to get serious about climate change,” Murphy said, which he added is why he made a point of visiting several businesses on Thursday. “I’m proud of the leadership we have in Connecticut on this issue.”

“We are a climate-sensitive state,” Murphy said. “And it’s my job to bring the success stories of businesses such as Bishop’s back to Washington and spread the word.”

Bishop’s Orchards used federal tax credits and a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Energy For America (REAP) grant to pay for its solar project.

REAP provides financial assistance to agricultural producers and rural small businesses in America to purchase, install, and construct renewable energy systems.

Renewable energy projects for the Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Efficiency Improvement Guaranteed Loan and Grant Program include wind, solar, biomass and geothermal, and hydrogen derived from biomass or water using wind, solar, or geothermal energy sources.

These grants are limited to 25 percent of a proposed project’s cost and a loan guarantee that may not exceed $25 million.

As recently as two years ago Connecticut lawmakers proposed legislation that would discourage solar developments on farmland, but the proposal elicited a mixed response from farmers. This year, lawmakers are debating a bill that would expand property tax exemptions to solar installations. Tax assessors have been struggling to determine whether solar panels should be tax exempt at the municipal level and the legislation offers clarification of the issue.

Besides Bishop’s in Guilford, Murphy also visited Proton Onsite, a Wallingford company that manufactures hydrogen generators for businesses and residences to produce hydrogen, a clean fuel, on site rather than from a remote generator site. He also went to Hammonasset State Park in Madison to talk about environmental issues impacting Madison’s shoreline.

In addition, Murphy visited New Haven to join volunteers for Haven’s Harvest, a “food rescue” organization, to assist with a delivery of unused food that would otherwise go to waste.

And in West Haven Murphy joined city officials and representatives from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to tour a coastal resiliency project made possible by federal relief funding from Hurricane Sandy.