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 MOFGA Flips the Switch to Solar Power

MOFGA Flips the Switch to Solar Power
Attains Goal of Energy Self-Sufficiency
Sun Providing All Electricity, All Year, for MOFGA
and Common Ground Country Fair
Solar array at MOFGA in Unity, Maine

Jason Tessier provides tour of MOFGA's solar array.

Jason Tessier, Buildings & Grounds Director
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA)
207-568-4142 (office); 207-474-4380 (cell)

Jennifer J. Albee, Customer Relations Manager
ReVision Energy, a Certified B Corp
207-589-4171 (office); 207-805-4056 (cell)

April 10, 2017 (Unity, ME) - The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) took a giant step toward energy self-sufficiency this spring when it flipped the energy switch to solar power at the Common Ground Education Center in Unity. With inspiration, guidance and generous financial support from Liberty-based ReVision Energy, MOFGA dramatically expanded its renewable energy infrastructure by installing a 102.08 kilowatt solar array and air source heat pumps. After almost twenty years at its home in western Waldo County, MOFGA is fulfilling its dream of becoming self-sufficient with energy.

"This is a big deal for all of us at MOFGA," said Jason Tessier, MOFGA's Buildings and Grounds Director. "Since we arrived in Unity in 1998, we have taken a conservation approach to building, and we have installed small-scale, innovative energy-generating facilities to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. We exhibit the possibilities for visitors, especially at our Common Ground Country Fair each September. With this larger solar power system in place, MOFGA will generate all the electric power it needs year-round, including for the Fair. We're also offsetting about 85% of our heating fuel. We are so grateful to Revision Energy for all they have done to help move this project forward."

For several years, MOFGA has partnered with ReVision Energy to accelerate the plan for energy self-sufficiency.

"Maine has an abundant solar resource that is vital to our farming community but can also be harvested to reduce our energy costs and carbon pollution," said Bill Behrens, co-founder of ReVision Energy. "This solar project dramatically increases MOFGA's long-term economic and environmental sustainability by locking in the low cost of clean, renewable solar electricity for the next four decades," said Behrens, who also noted that modern solar technology comes with a 25-year warranty and 40-year expected useful lifespan.

"We are grateful for the natural partnership we have developed with MOFGA over the past 10 years and look forward to working together to use the Common Ground Education Center as an ideal venue to inspire the general public about using Maine's solar resource to reduce energy costs, create good-paying jobs and to increase our energy independence and security."

Since 2003, ReVision Energy has grown from two guys working out of a Liberty, ME garage to more than 155 employees in five locations today. Behrens attributed the company's success to its mission to transition northern New England from finite, polluting fossil fuels to renewable energy combined with battery storage, efficient heating and cooling appliances and electric vehicle charging. "We are proud to be a certified B-Corp, which means we are running the business to create maximum positive impact for everyone rather than the traditional approach of maximizing returns for a small group of shareholders," said Behrens. Other B-Corps include Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, Patagonia, King Arthur Flour and Maine-based Atayne athletic wear.

Located on 300 acres of mixed farmland and forest, MOFGA's Common Ground Education Center provides ample space for the organization's renowned Fair while serving as an exciting venue for year-round educational programs. A key part of this programming is an assortment of small-scale energy systems that visitors may view and recreate in their own homes or on their farms. Aspects of design for conservation and energy efficiency include:
  • building orientation for solar gain and use of local materials.
  • a flat-plate solar wall on the structure that houses water tanks for the sprinkler system in the main building. The system keeps the temperature above freezing even during frigid Maine winters, when it takes advantage of snow reflection.
  • a flat-plate solar wall on the south side of the main building that pre-heats water and pumps it to a 1500-gallon insulated water tank which serves the general heating system.
  • a ten-kilowatt Bergey Excel wind generator atop an eighty-foot tilt-up tower.
  • a grid-tied 11.7-kilowatt solar photovoltaic array installed on MOFGA's 200-year-old red barn.

"Each of these components was an important step along our path to energy self-sufficiency," said Tessier. "But now we really can demonstrate that it's possible to shed our dependence on fossil fuels and embrace a clean and dependable source of energy."


Solar power was the leading source of new electric generation capacity installed in the U.S. last year, and community solar played an important role in the growth. Unfortunately, Maine lagged way behind in solar power installations. While solar power jobs increased by 25% last year across the nation, Maine ranked last in New England.


MOFGA is achieving its renewable energy goal while solar policy debates are flaring in Augusta. Notably, Governor LePage is pressuring Maine's Public Utilities Commission to roll back benefits for customers with solar arrays who receive compensation for energy they return to the power grid. MOFGA and ReVision Energy join Maine's Environmental Priorities Coalition in supporting progressive state legislation on this issue, specifically An Act to Protect and Expand Access to Solar Power in Maine, sponsored by Senator Seth Berry of Bowdoinham. The bill will: 

  • eliminate barriers to community solar projects in Maine, allowing hundreds of people to participate in and benefit from a single community solar project.
  • establish net metering in statute, which is fundamental for a predictable solar market.
  • authorize third-party ownership of solar projects, which is available in other states, so that Mainers can access easier financing.
  • create hundreds of new solar jobs, lower energy costs, and provide clean, local energy for Maine people. 

"MOFGA remains hopeful about the future of solar power for farmers, businesses and families in Maine," said Tessier. "Farmers have to be optimistic about the future. We do everything we can to plan, but some variables are just beyond our control. Locking in energy costs by generating our own power strengthens our business plans and helps us succeed financially. Community generation of renewable, reliable energy is essential not only for a clean environment, but also for a healthy economy." 


MOFGA is happy to provide a scalable model for anyone interested in solar power systems, and is hoping that policymakers in Augusta will blow away the dark clouds hovering over the state's solar energy legislation.


For more information about energy efficiency efforts at MOFGA's Common Ground Education Center visit www.mofga.org, or contact Jason Tessier at jtessier@mofga.org or 207-568-4142.


 Solar Power Minimize

Space heating in Maine is costly and expected to cost much more in the future. No matter how you get your space heating BTU's, one can expect to pay more for them, unless you can use the sun. In an effort to minimize our heating costs, MOFGA is developing a plan to use the sun to lower our water and space heating costs.

Main Building: Plans now are for flat-plate collectors to be installed on the south side of the main building, most likely as a "solar wall." A solar wall will take advantage of snow reflection during the winter, be easier to maintain, as well as allowing fairgoers to get a close up view of this heat generating system. The water in these flat plate collectors will be pumped to MOFGA's existing 1500-gallon insulated water tank. This tank is already part of our present heating system, which will need some minor modifications to take advantage of the new water temperatures in the tank. This set-up will also require some reworking of our existing radiator system.

Hot-Water: We plan on installing a propane fired on-demand heater in the kitchen with a possible solar collector as an assist. Hot water now has to travel a long distance to the kitchen and depending on the heat demands that day, may not be hot enough for all purposes.

Sprinkler Building: The main building at MOFGA was required to have a large sprinkler system. As a result we have a sprinkler building with three very large steel tanks filled with water we must heat to prevent from freezing. This situation presents a challenge to reducing our use of petroleum products.

Fortunately, the sprinkler building is an ideal application for solar heating for two reasons:

  • The building only needs to be kept above freezing. This means the collector operates at low temperature, which means higher efficiency and wood components can be used.
  • The water in the tanks provides a large amount of thermal storage to carry over solar energy collected on sunny days into nights and cloudy days.

We looked at several methods of capturing the sun’s energy to keep this water from freezing and decided on a wall collector. A wall collector provides a better collector angle to the fall, winter and spring sun than a roof collector. It is also easier to cover in the summer to prevent over heating.

We first investigated purchasing pre-built solar collectors, but decided to construct our own. Site built collectors can be lower cost, designed to maximize use of available south facing area, and more aesthetic. All materials were available locally except the polycarbonate glazing.

Construction Sequence

Door, windows, and siding removed from south wall and openings covered with plywood.

Vertical slots cut at extreme east and west ends of south wall to provide air inlet and outlet for collector.
The slot is extended through the 6" insulated wall with short masonite ducts.

2 x 4 perimeter frame screwed to wall.

1/2" foil faced foam insulation applied and joints sealed with aluminum tape and caulking.
Stand offs made from strapping screwed to wall to support the metal collector plate and provide a space for air to move behind the plate. Metal plate (standard 3’ wide black steel roofing) screwed to stand offs and sealed with caulking.

Vertical glazing supports screwed over the plate.

Bottom and side perimeter covered with aluminum flashing.
Polycarbonate glazing installed with weather stripping and aluminum battens.

Inlet manifold and fan installed. Differential controller turns on fan when
collector is 20 degrees hotter than the building.

For more details on design and construction of site built collectors contact Jay LeGore: legore@fairpoint.net.


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