Monday, November 9, 2015

Highland Farm - Old Chatham, N.Y.

Highland Farm - Old Chatham, N.Y.

“It was crucial for us that EGF stepped up. The whole project hinged on us being able to access the money. EGF was so helpful in facilitating the whole process. They were instrumental in guiding us through what we needed and helping execute on the loan."- Andrew McDonnell Highland Farm in Chatham, N.Y. An EGF loan helped this small farm remain as environmentally sustainable as possible, while still yielding the greatest economic benefits. 

Andrew and Courtney McDonnell wanted to make the upgrades necessary to ensure that their Highland Farm organic beef, pork and poultry operations in Upstate New York were as environmentally sustainable as possible, while still yielding the greatest economic benefits. They decided to install a solar energy system that would generate enough electricity to power all of the operations for their 85-acre farm, including their own residence and five other structures on the property. 

The real challenge came when they sought funding for the $146,000 project. When the credit bureau that typically handles Highland Farm’s finances explained that it did not participate in any energy loan programs, the McDonnells turned to Excelsior Growth Fund (EGF).  

EGF administers the New York Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) Small Commercial Energy Efficiency Program, which gives small businesses and nonprofits access to upfront capital for energy improvements at low interest rates. 

The McDonnells, who raise organic beef cattle, turkey, pigs and chickens, used their $102,640 NYSERDA loan and another $32,000 in solar incentives to install a 32kW solar energy system on the roof of one of their barns. The system, installed by Lighthouse Solar in New Paltz, generates enough power to run the farm, with any excess power credited to the farm’s electric account. Given that the farm’s electric bills ran $5,000 or more a month, the solar panels are expected to pay for themselves in eight years. 

“It was crucial for us that EGF stepped up. The whole project hinged on us being able to access the money. EGF was so helpful in facilitating the whole process. They were instrumental in guiding us through what we needed, and helping execute on the loan,” Andrew McDonnell says. 

NYSERDA’s incentives also allow Highland Farm to depreciate 85 percent of the system’s total cost over five years, freeing up more capital for the owners to run the farm’s daily operations. The McDonnells bought the farm in 2008. They raise organic chickens and heritage-bred pigs and turkeys on their Old Chatham farmland, and partner with Kinderhook Farm, located in nearby Valatie, to pasture their grass-fed Angus beef. 

They have also opened the farm to tourists as a way to bring in more income. The married couple is converting the second of two structures into rental properties as “farm-stay” residents for visitors, and they say the solar system enhances their sustainable business and lifestyle. 

“You have to find every possible way to be as efficient as possible to participate in today’s farming business. Solar power also plays into what we’re about—a progressive farming operation,” Andrew McDonnell says. “You have to tell a story and live by that story. We’re raising animals here in a way that is congruent with the customers that purchase our products.”