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VHCC and USDA Assist Local Farmer with Renewable Energy
Measure saves thousands, protects the environment
Posted Date: 10/11/2012

A Washington County farmer who turned to Virginia Highlands Community College and local agriculture officials for help is now using solar energy as an affordable option to water his cattle and protect the environment.

Scott Widener of Damascus was recently named the Holston River Soil and Water Conservation District’s “Conservation Farmer of the Year” for his effort to improve water quality and reduce erosion in the S. Fork Holston Watershed. One of the practices he enlisted was the use of solar power to pump water from a well on his farm and into reservoir tanks, where it can be redirected to water troughs as needed. The use of solar panels to power the pump saved him thousands of dollars, officials said.

And, said Bill Moss, District Conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the new equipment has given his cattle a new place to graze away from the stream.

“We were working with Scott to find ways to keep his cattle and their waste from entering the stream, which eventually flows into the Holston River,” he explained. “It was going to be rather expensive to install an electric line across his farm just to power a pump. With help from the College, the solar panels were installed for about one-fourth the cost and there is no monthly electric bill. Solar panels are much cheaper than in the past and more efficient in producing power.”

Expertise for the design and installation of the solar panels was provided by Joe Mitchell, assistant professor of Energy Technology at VHCC, and his students. The two-year Energy Technology Program provides graduates with an Associate of Applied Science Degree and focuses on both traditional and alternative energy sources.

“Scott was familiar with our program and asked if we could help him design and install an affordable alternative to the electric line,” Mitchell explained. “We installed the solar panels that power the pump, which provides a six-day supply of water to his reservoirs. We also included a generator as a back-up power source. This project has been a great way to help a member of our community and a great hands-on project for my students.”

Widener is now in the running for a regional award that recognizes farming excellence in Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee.