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Modern technology meets historic bed and breakfast

A historic Cluster Springs inn aims to attract environmentally conscious guests and save money too with the first solar photovolactic system to generate clean electricity at a Virginia bed and breakfast.

Oak Grove Plantation Bed & Breakfast is blending the old with the new promoting both the building’s 200-year history and the modern potential of solar panels that produce sustainable energy. The inn wants to preserve its part of the state’s extraordinary legacy of beautiful landscapes and nourishing wildlife habitats. North Carolina-based Southern Energy Management designed and installed the system, which should produce enough power to account for more than half of the property’s total demand.

“Our guests will be able to sip lemonade on the front porch as my ancestors once did, then tour the 25 by 10 feet lineup of solar panels in the back field,” says innkeeper Pickett Craddock, whose family has always owned the former tobacco plantation. “I want to encourage guests to install solar power, too.”

The 3.9-kilowatt solar array features 16 Bosch 245-watt modules mounted in the field behind Oak Grove’s main building. Hooked up to its central heating and air conditioning system with 15 SEER heat pump, the project will allow the bed and breakfast to extend its season beyond the traditional months of May through September. 

The project was financed under a unique set of circumstances that also allow Oak Grove to protect the 400 acres of forest surrounding the inn. Its owners are using a Virginia Land Conservation Incentives Act program to preserve the land in perpetuity, a move that made them eligible for tax breaks to make up for the lost property value. Oak Grove then sold the tax breaks and used the proceeds to pay for the solar array.

“Solar is a perfect fit for Oak Grove, and this system will go a long ways toward helping them reach their sustainability goals,” SEM Commercial Energy Specialist Evan Bickerstaff said. “This is the first time we’ve had a client finance their system quite like this, but we’d love to see more businesses do something similar. The idea that land preservation can go hand in hand with a solar installation is absolutely in line with our mission, and that made this project even more impressive.”

Land preservation and solar power aren’t the only things Oak Grove Plantation has done to make the property greener. The inn recycles, has a compost pile for vegetable scraps and has installed “low-e” energy-efficient storm windows on the south side. Motorists who arrive in hybrids get a third night free. Also, there is optional linen service, and all the laundry on site dries on a clothesline. 

Rain barrels collect water, the inn has a tankless electric hot water heater, it uses compact fluorescent lighting, and its owners have deliberately avoided adding a television. 

With the view off Oak Grove’s front porch, many people might suggest a TV would be unnecessary, anyway.