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The Light Fantastic

Florence B&B Is the Region’s First Solar-powered Getaway
John Clapp and Dee Boyle-Clapp

John Clapp and Dee Boyle-Clapp stand near the photovoltaic panels that power their B&B in Florence.

Traveling up the long, gravel driveway of the Starlight Llama Bed and Breakfast in Florence, guests are sometimes greeted by an unlikely crew of hosts: bright blue peacocks perched on a fence, inquisitive llamas, a mischievous miniature donkey, and an emu or two.

Later in the day, visitors might also take the banana peels and apple cores from the complimentary fruit baskets in their rooms to share with the menagerie, and upon their departure, will leave with a unique show of gratitude — a vibrant peacock feather.

The animals at the Starlight Llama, nearly all of which were rescued from inhumane conditions, are definitely a draw, and a unique addition to a Western Mass. getaway.

However, they’re just one aspect of a unique identity for the B&B — that defined by environmental stewardship and an appreciation for nature.

In fact, the establishment, owned by John Clapp and Dee Boyle-Clapp, who’ve also made their home on the property, is completely ‘off the grid,’ using solar power as its primary energy source. To date, it’s the only 100% solar-powered B&B in the area, and the hosts hope it’s not the last.

Clapp, a builder by trade, explained that he constructed the home and adjoining B&B, which includes three rooms with private baths and is open to guests year-round, nine years ago, using mostly lumber harvested directly from the property and other sustainable materials.

“Our original plan was to have the home set up to serve as a B&B upon our retirement,” he said, noting that it will be at least a decade before the couple reaches that stage. “But we completed the permit process earlier, just to have it, two years ago.”

Clapp said the local newspaper, the Daily Hampshire Gazette, wrote a short article about the unique venture upon hearing of the permit request through City Hall, and since then the bookings haven’t stopped.

“We didn’t start advertising until about a year ago this spring,” he said, “and that was when the oil and energy crises were really getting people’s attention. Part of our purpose is to show people that alternative energy works, and up until now, that’s been the primary reason guests were finding and visiting us.”

Hearth and Home

Clapp will even guide guests on a tour of the property’s solar-power installation — in fact, he encourages it. However, that initial reason for a visit has since been joined by other creature comforts, such as the homemade breakfasts Boyle-Clapp prepares, serving omelets made with the eggs from her free-range hens, German apple pancakes with garnish from an organic garden, and french toast made with almond milk, among other delicacies.

Guests also enjoy the bucolic charm of the property, which once served as a dairy farm and later a saw mill, and includes 65 acres of land that is conservation-protected, meaning it cannot be developed. Trails wind around the trees, suitable for hiking, snowshoeing, or a stroll with one of the B&B’s llamas (the couple hopes to clear the trails in the future to make them even more accessible).

Inside, rooms are appointed with a mixture of antiques, Shaker-inspired furniture — much of it handcrafted by Clapp — and new, space-saving pieces from Ikea, all tied together with the charm of the peacock feathers placed in vases and bowls.

What’s most notable about the Starlight Llama, though, is what guests don’t notice once they’re tucked into their cozy rooms: the B&B gleans its electricity from solar rays captured by an array of photovoltaic, or PV, panels, and has no connection to the electric company whatsoever.

Photovoltaics generate solar power by using solar cells packaged in modules, which convert energy from the sun into electricity; a generator serves as a backup.

Further, water is also heated alternatively, using two systems: a tankless hot water system, which uses a copper box with a heating element to circumvent the need for a large hot water heater, and a solar panel and a copper coil wound around the home’s wood stove pipe to augment the system.

“It’s great, because it’s instant,” said Clapp. “There’s no big tank to heat, and it never gets cold.”

Have Sun, Will Travel

Clapp said he first experimented with alternative energy and heating in a studio apartment in the 1980s, and that most of the basic technology hasn’t changed dramatically, other than to improve in performance.

“It’s fairly early technology — much of it the stuff of Popular Science magazines,” he said. “It’s not in the mainstream yet, but it needs to be.”

As energy prices continue to soar, Clapp said more people are embracing alternative energy sources than ever before, and seeking to learn about how others have incorporated it into their homes and businesses.

“Many people still have the mindset that it doesn’t work in New England, and that’s part of the reason we’re here,” he said. “This is something we both want to do, and we’re happy to let it grow organically. Through word of mouth and referrals, we’re already growing, and at the point when we’re ready to leave our jobs and focus on this full-time, we think other people will be ready to start thinking about alternative energy more seriously.”

In the future, in addition to some gradual improvements to their property, the couple also hopes to begin conducting workshops for guests or community groups in the possibilities of solar power and other alternative energy sources.

“It’s important to get information out to people so they know that it is not difficult,” said Boyle-Clapp, noting that when educating guests, she and Clapp are careful to point out the peculiarities of such systems. “There are some quirks, but for the most part, it’s easily done.”

Largely, it’s a matter of getting used to new habits. Flipping off light switches and unplugging cell phone chargers and other appliances is good practice in any home, but at the Starlight Llama, it’s doubly important to make sure everything is powered off during low- or no-use periods, in order to avoid waste associated with what are called ‘phantom loads.’

“Some larger systems are more automated, but ours is a mid-sized system, so we power off in the evenings and when we’re not here,” said Clapp. “When stuff is plugged in but not running, it’s a big deal for everyone, but it’s a bigger deal for us.”

Strutting Their Stuff

And while guests rarely feel the effects of an alternatively powered inn, the couple will check visitors in with a few requests, such as limiting Internet use (free wi-fi is available in all rooms) and charging cell phones during daylight (a.k.a peak) hours.

“There’s always time for people to ask their questions,” said Boyle-Clapp. “There is plenty to learn, and slowly, people are more open to the knowledge.”

As for the llamas, donkeys, emus, and goats, they keep to themselves most of the time, unless there’s a treat involved. And after mating season, the peacocks shake loose of their tail feathers, making them available for keepsakes that could tickle the next guests’ fancy.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at

[email protected]

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