ISKCON’s West Virginia community New Vrindaban has taken another step towards the self-sufficiency that Srila Prabhupada envisioned for it when it was founded in 1968: the community has installed two brand new solar energy systems this year.
Behind the project is ECOV, a non-profit entity formed in the late 1990s with the special focus of realizing Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on living off the land and the cows.
“One solar system was installed on the roof of the community garden building, across the street from the Radha Vrindabanchandra temple,” says ECOV board member Chaitanya Mangala Dasa. “It was activated in the spring, and produces power for a garden shed and guest center.”
Meanwhile, the other system was installed at the Valley Barn, where the majority of New Vrindaban’s sixty cows and bulls reside, on June 12th. Consisting of 26 panels and measuring 42 feet wide and 10 feet high, it produces power for the barn’s lights and animal care equipment, as well as for ECOV’s offices.
In the first week, the two systems produced 114,000 watts of electricity between them; overall, the garden system produces 3 kilo watts per hour, while the barn system produces 5.2.
Holstein Steer grazing outside New Vrindaban Valley Barn
The systems are not independent from the grid, but instead are designed to feed back into the main grid, which will continue to be available.
Both systems are designed to produce enough electricity for the buildings they’re attached to so as to result in a zero dollar electric bill.
“Solar power is a renewable energy source that can help reduce our carbon footprint,” Chaitanya Mangala says.
The new solar systems are currently in a testing stage, as ECOV staff study how well they perform in West Virginia’s climate—the area only gets 150 days of sun a year.
Solar panels set up
The information they gather will guide future decisions on whether they install more solar panels or investigate other, more efficient types of renewable resource systems.
Even if solar power is chosen as the main energy source, other systems will be incorporated as well, as New Vrindaban moves towards becoming more and more energy efficient. ECOV staff are currently also looking into wind power and bio gas power, which would be run by extracting methane from cow dung.
“Srila Prabhupada clearly stated forty years ago that the main business for New Vrindaban was to develop the simple village lifestyle with residents dependent upon the land and the cows,” says Chaitanya Mangala. “This matches perfectly with the buzz today about developing local economies and minimizing the distance between production and consumption.”
All the solar panels are in place
Srila Prabhupada was also a strong advocate of locally produced products, stating, “Anything grown in the garden, that is hundred times [more] valuable than what is purchased from the market.”
ECOV staff are also working towards this goal, planting their own crops in a small demonstration garden as well as the five-acre Garden of Seven Gates. The aim is for the New Vrindaban community to be able to subsist as much as possible on self-produced vegetables rather than those purchased at the grocery store.
The community is also working towards growing all its own flowers for use in the temple, while ECOV staff have planted two hundred fruit trees and berry bushes on the New Vrindaban property.
Manjari, a Brown Swiss Heifer in the Valley Barn which is being powered by solar panels
“All these activities, along with our recent introduction of solar power, represent practical steps towards lessening our dependence on the fossil fuel based economy, and show by positive example that we’re acting on the important instructions that Prabhupada gave us,” Chaitanya Mangala says.