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Energy Efficiency Help from the Pennsylvania Farm Energy Audits Program

Posted: May 31, 2011

Expert advice, in the form of a farm energy audit, is the best method to find ways to improve your farm’s energy efficiency. Unfortunately, energy audits are often quite expensive and typically cost $1500 or more. Through the Pennsylvania Farm Energy Audits Program, USDA will offset the cost by paying 75% of the energy audit, leaving only 25% of the cost to the farmer. The audits are carried out by Penn State agricultural energy specialists or specially trained private consultants, depending on the location of the farm and availability of personnel. Dan Ciolkosz, the Penn State Extension energy specialist who is coordinating the program, let me tag along during one of the audit visits at a tree fruit orchard operation in Adams County last month. Dan was conducting the audit along with George Hurd, the Environmental/Resource Development Extension Educator from Franklin County. We first sat down with the orchard owner and asked questions about all of the different energy sources on the farm (e.g., electricity, fuel oil, wood, diesel, etc.) and looked over the farm’s electricity bills from the last few years. The owner also shared information about his use of and plans for improving and upgrading various buildings, cold storage rooms, and a three-phase electric system installation.
Penn State Extension Educator George Hurd asks questions about the installation of a condenser unit in a new cold storage room.

Penn State Extension Educator George Hurd asks questions about the installation of a condenser unit in a new cold storage room.

Dr. Katie Ellis, Penn State Ag Innovations for Specialty Crops Extension Educator

We then walked throughout the farm and studied the equipment setup in the greenhouse, cold storage rooms, irrigation pumps (well and surface water), and market. The farm was in the process of installing the three-phase system and a new cold storage room. Since the equipment was not yet installed, it was a great opportunity to check out individual parts like lighting units, fans, compressors, and condensers. Seeing the farm setup in person helped us visualize the flow of product in and out of the storage rooms and ask questions about efficiency during peak production times and market days. The owner also pointed out some innovations he developed along the way, like pole barn skylights that helped extend natural lighting during work days.

After inspecting the equipment and taking photos of motors, light bulbs, and refrigeration equipment, Dan and George will analyze the information to come up with a report that lists recommended ways for the orchard owner to improve energy efficiency. The report will also include information on possible funding for installing energy efficient equipment. 

An energy audit is a great way to jump start your future plans for increasing farm energy efficiency. It’s also a required first step for many funding programs, so the Pennsylvania Farm Energy Audits Program presents a great opportunity to get a low-cost assessment that may let you take advantage of funding for energy installation programs.

Pennsylvania Farm Energy Audits Program funds are on a first-come, first-served basis, and are limited to commercial farms (including greenhouses) that are in a rural area in Pennsylvania. An application and additional information are available online at:  http://extension.psu.edu/energy/farmers-landowners. Click on “PA Farm Energy Audits Program.”  Applications are also available through your county extension office. For additional information, contact Dr. Daniel Ciolkosz at 814-863-3484 by email at dec109@engr.psu.edu.

The Pennsylvania Farm Energy Audits Program is a partnership between USDA Rural Development, Capital Resource Conservation and Development Council, Center for Dairy Excellence and Penn State Extension.