Sun-powered at Methuen's Mann Orchards

Orchards to produce most of its own electricity with solar panels

METHUEN — Josh Fitzgerald visited Carlson Orchards in Harvard, Mass., and saw an array of solar panels the owners had installed on the 140-acre farm.

When he returned to Mann Orchards which he operates with his brother Matt, their sister and parents, he asked: “Why not here?”

Two years later, the Fitzgeralds have put the final touches on a new system of solar panels that Matt Fitzgerald said will make a significant difference not only in their electricity bills, but in their carbon footprint as well.

“The first bill, there was a big chunk immediately knocked out (of the cost),” he said.

Fitzgerald said the orchard and farm, situated on 29 acres on Pleasant Valley Street, consumes a lot of electricity between cold storage, cooking and cider pressing. The difference that on-site electricity generation made for Carlson’s was enough to inspire Josh Fitzgerald pitch the idea to his family two years ago.

Soon after that visit, Josh and Matt Fitzgerald mentioned the idea of a solar farm at the orchard to an aide of Congresswoman Niki Tsongas while having lunch with him at the cafe. “It really snowballed from that conversation,” Matt Fitzgerald said.

Tsongas’ office, former state Sen. Steve Baddour and former Mayor Bill Manzi worked with Mann Orchards on the project, helping them with state and federal deadlines and connecting them with people at National Grid.

In all, 760 solar panels were installed over about an acre, with a total capacity of 220.4 kilowatts, which is estimated to cover 81 percent of the orchard and farm stand’s needs. Mann Orchards estimates the reduction in its use of electricity generated elsewhere would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 150 tons per year.

While the cost of solar panels has come down in the last few years, Fitzgerald said a federal tax credit and a state electricity credit market, where Mann Orchards can sell the excess power it produces from the solar farm, made the project cost-effective.

Bill Fitzgerald, who owns the orchard, considered the project an investment that would pay for itself in a few years. “The indication is, this will pay off well in the future,” he said. “It guarantees what we’ll pay for electricity in the future.”

State officials praised the solar farm Tuesday at an unveiling at the orchard, saying the agricultural sector has been heading up the push for renewable energy production in the state.

The panels were made by Canadian Solar and manufactured in China. The inverters, which change the DC power generated by the solar cells into AC power that goes to the outlets, and combiners, which join all the currents from the hundreds of panels into one stream, were manufactured by Lawrence-based Solectria Renewables.

Lighthouse Electrical of Rockland installed the panels and did the wiring.

“The farming industry in many ways has led clean energy industry in Massachusetts,” said Richard Sullivan, the state Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

Written by: Douglas Moser,