In June, 2017 we installed two ground-mounted photovoltaic solar arrays which will offset 107% of our electricity usage. Here’s the story about how we got there and some photos of the installation.

Saltonstall Goes Solar!

The next time you visit Saltonstall, you’re bound to notice something new on the property: solar panels! Two large ground-mounted photovoltaic arrays were recently installed next to the office.

We are so excited and proud of this project. Our goal was two-fold: we wanted to become a more environmentally sustainable organization, and we also wanted the investment to be a sound financial decision. We met both goals

These arrays will offset 107% of the colony’s current electric usage. Saltonstall’s three buildings, combined, use approximately 15,000 kWh (kilowatt-hours) a year. Offsetting this entire amount means we will be keeping the equivalent of 11.6 tons of Co2 out of the environment, or 11,249 pounds of coal burned each year.

In addition to our convictions about our own environmental stewardship, this was also a business decision – a long-term investment with a guaranteed return. In purchasing solar panels for the colony, we will save at least $70,000 over the course of the 25-year (guaranteed) lifespan of the panels, money we can redirect to better supporting the artists and writers we serve. And we have every intention of being around 25 years from now!

Two Years In The Making

Saltonstall is an organization centered around facilities. In addition to 200 acres of fields and woods, the colony is comprised of Connie Saltonstall’s original house plus an additional building with two visual arts studios and adjoining apartments. These two residential buildings and our office (a separate structure) are utilized year-round.

Among other expenses, facilities come with fixed costs: utilities. Unlike repairs or maintenance that can vary in scope and expense from year to year, utilities are constant. Lights are used every day. Hot water is heated every day.

Two years ago this July, we asked Ithaca-based Taitem Engineering to help us think through some options regarding our energy usage and systems. Among other topics, we wanted to investigate how solar panels could help us become more environmentally and economically sustainable.

Following an energy audit and the dozens of recommendations it produced, Taitem also put together a few proposals for photovoltaic systems that would offset various amounts of our electric usage.

Roof Vs. Ground

As the conversations with Taitem continued, we committed ourselves to purchasing a system that would offset 100% of our electricity needs.

While we have two south-facing roofs on the property, neither was going to be large enough to accommodate the number of solar panels needed to get us to 100%. But we also have ample open space with no tree cover, so ground-mounted arrays became the clear solution.

Why The Office? 

We loved the office location for two main reasons: it’s out-of-sight of the colony buildings (what artist or writer wouldn’t rather look at trees?), and there’s very easy access to an electric meter.

Saltonstall has three electric meters – one on each of our buildings. The solar arrays only need to connect to one of them. The energy generated at the office will offset all of the energy where it’s most used, namely the two colony buildings.

On Or Off The Grid?

We are still connected to the grid. During the long days of spring and summer, the solar arrays will produce more energy than we use, and during the winter months, we’ll likely use more than we produce. But over the course of a 12-month period, after the debits and credits are calculated, we’ll almost always have a surplus of credit.

Good For Artists, Good For The Environment

The property at Saltonstall is central to an artist’s and writer’s experience during a residency or a retreat. Hiking trails wind through wooded hills. Fields with tall grasses and wildflowers, ponds, and small streams provide diverse habitats for a multitude of flora and fauna. There are gorgeous views from each of the colony’s apartments. It’s so quiet here, guests often begin whispering when they first arrive and step out of their cars.

We are deeply committed to being good stewards of this land. We are just as dedicated to responsible financial management. As we continue to address our energy consumption and make changes to our energy systems, we will continue to make decisions that are good for the environment and central to our mission, because these are not mutually exclusive goals.

(Shown above: Mike Yaple and Dan McLean from Taitem Engineering. Thanks, guys!)