DRACUT– Shaw Farm, for decades famous for its dairy foods, is now bringing a very 21st-century product to market.
“We’re growing energy instead of crops,” says Warren Shaw, who owns and runs the farm on New Boston Road along with his son Mark.
Over the last year, Shaw has overseen the installation of more than 1,500 solar panels on his acreage, producing 400 kW of electricity.
The power generated runs the agricultural operation, and what the farm does not use “spills into” the electrical grid. National Grid then pays Shaw Farm for this excess power.
“Basically, we’re farming power,” Shaw explains.
Shaw began thinking about and planning for the solar power installation in 2015. “I have to take the long view of the business. It has been here for more than 100 years. I hope it’s here in another 100 years.”
He is the fourth generation to run the farm, his son Mark is the fifth and he is hopeful for a sixth.
For Shaw, the tipping point came when the annual electric bill reached $100,000. It took three years to bring the project to fruition due to engineering and vetting processes that National Grid requires. “There’s a lot of sitting in queue for these programs.”
In addition, there were some surprises along the way. The solar array provides power only to the agricultural operations. Complicated regulations regarding power distribution meant the Shaws could not run power to their store across the street.
Shaw Farm now gets 90 percent of its energy from the solar panels.
The first solar panels were installed in March 2018, but the installation was not complete until August. Then, there was a three-month waiting period to actually get connected to the grid.
The Shaws are not the only farmers in New England looking at solar energy. “Solar is really big right now. Farmers are looking at this as means to keep farms viable for the future.”
Warren Shaw believes that “we should maximize the use of resources we’ve been given.” He’s lived his life farming that way and the solar project will not be his last effort.
“I’m thinking about a pollinator friendly plantation. I would like to put in plants friendly to bees.” Then when the hive is set, he will make and sell honey.
Noting that honey bee populations are struggling, he sees the pollinator plantation as a way to help bees and to maximize the use of his land.