By Jason Starr
The Essex Reporter
Claussen’s Florist and Greenhouse in Colchester is in the middle of a $500,000 investment in reducing its energy footprint that will include an eight-panel solar farm near the corner of Main Street and Middle Road.
The 20-foot-tall panels will have sun-tracking capability and will combine with a series of fixed, rooftop panels to produce roughly 130 kilowatt hours of electricity, according to Claussen’s co-owner Chris Conant. The business has submitted an application with the Vermont Public Service Board for a certificate of public good for the project.
With 40 greenhouses each cooled by two large exhaust fans, Claussen’s is an energy-intensive business. Conant estimates it spends $285,000 a year on natural gas and $75,000 a year on electricity. Company founder Bill Claussen expects on-site solar generation to cut into the business’ energy bills by about 15 percent.
The company has contracted with an energy design and construction company called Smith & McClain of Bristol to permit and build the system. Conant and Claussen expect the panels to be built this summer.
“We got the best of the best panels,” said Claussen. “We said ‘if we’re going to do it, we might as well do it well.’”
The parcel for the panels is toward the back of the Claussen’s property. The business purchased it in 2009 from the Colchester Lions Club. The Lions had used the property to store items for its annual auction fundraiser. Claussen’s now uses it for outdoor growing of perennials, which it will continue to do after the panels are installed. The panels are sited to line the east and north side of the property.
Trees that were planted in 2009 to shield the property from neighbors on Middle Road, and from the Union Memorial School playground that borders the south side, will reduce the visual impact of the solar panels, Conant said. Each of the panels will be 22 feet in width, according to the Public Service Board application.
“You’re going to see them, but the trees will grow to be tall enough to block the majority of the panels,” Conant said.
In addition to energy production, the company’s plan to reduce its energy footprint also includes energy efficiency upgrades that it has already put in place. Efficient new boilers have cut into the company’s natural gas needs, and computerized controllers have been installed to run the greenhouses’ exhaust systems in a smarter way.
“We’ve gone the efficiency route, which is a big step. It’s had a huge impact,” said Conant. “The next step is investing in solar power … anything we can to cut our utility use for economic reasons and for the health of our world.”