Ask T.Lyle Ferderber how his solar-powered flour mill works, and he begins, "Each morning, a fiery orb rises in the east ..."
Ferderber's investment in solar energy seems almost that inevitable. His family-run Frankferd Farm grows and mills organic flour, while distributing other organic products in seven states. Making the Saxonburg-based operation even greener was logical ... and the alcohol probably didn't hurt either.
"This all got started over a couple of really good beers," says Ferderber. "A friend who worked for a solar company gave us a presentation over a campfire in the backyard."
Installed atop a barn roof last summer, the panels are wired to the utility grid, so the mill can run when it's overcast — and add power to the system when it's sunny. The 10-kilowatt array powers three flour mills and a mixer, as well as the Ferderber home. During peak-sun periods, "Even when the mill is running, we're putting juice back on the grid," Ferderber says.
The panels have a 25-year life expectancy; thanks partly to renewable-energy grants, they should pay for themselves in half that time. (Ferderber has already added another solar array to a warehouse.) "We may seem like classical liberals, but [solar is] a blend of idealism and practicality," Ferderber says.
And you don't have to buy panels to invest in solar: Frankferd Farm's "solar-powered flour" can be purchased from the East End Food Co-op, or the farm directly. See www.frankferd.com for details.