The solar barn, home to their walk-in cooler.
Earlier this year, on cloudy days when it seemed as if the sun had abandoned Dane County, Mike and Cassie Noltnerwyss would go outside their Crossroads Community Farm residence in Cross Plains and look up at the 78 solar panels recently installed on their barn and home.
"We thought 'Oh, they're so inspiring! But we can't do anything with them yet,'" Cassie says, laughing.
Eventually, those panels -- 54 on the barn and another 24 on the house -- will provide enough power to nearly eliminate electric bills for the 30-acre certified organic family farm located on County Road J. The $90,000-plus system, which became fully operational at the end of April, should pay for itself within five or six years and offset almost 31,000 pounds of carbon dioxide annually, the equivalent of emissions from burning 33 barrels of oil every year.
Solar is something the couple -- parents of two children under 5 -- have been thinking seriously about since 2012. But building a small business as part of Madison's FairShare Community Supported Agriculture Coalition means there are always projects or products vying for the Noltnerwysses' revenue dollars.
"This was the first year where there wasn't something else pressing," Cassie says. "We didn't need a new tractor or have to install a new retaining wall. We're finally feeling safe that we can take this next step."
By doing so, the Noltnerwysses are among the first FairShare members to take advantage of a group-buy opportunity provided to the 50 member farms by Madison-based H&H Solar Energy Services. (The company will also match the total amount discounted on all FairShare group-buy installations with a donation to the organization.)
"The Crossroads Community Farm project is a great example of a business using solar energy to make a difference for the business' bottom line," says Adam Gusse, vice president of H&H Solar Energy Services. "Cassie and Mike will see an immediate difference in their utility costs."
While that prospect pleases Cassie, she insists this project is not just about her family farm or other CSA members. "The fact that we're a farm is beside the point," she says. "This makes sense whether you own a residence or run a business. You don't need any more space than a south-facing roof, and you know energy is not going to get cheaper."
The Noltnerwyss family took advantage of federal tax credits, a Focus on Energy rebate, the FairShare group-buy discount and potential grants to make their solar dream a reality.
"Being powered by the sun -- you can't get much cleaner than that," Cassie says. "As farmers, we watch things that are powered by the sun all the time, but now we're doing it in a different way."