California Farms Adopt Solar for Energy Savings

by | May 4, 2010

While numerous California wineries and vineyards have embraced solar energy as a way to cut their environmental footprint and reduce energy costs, crop farmers including a cooperative in Sutter Basin are starting to realize the cost-saving benefits of renewable energy. The federal government is also making moves to help farmers turn methane emissions from livestock into a renewable energy source.

The Sutter Basin Growers Cooperative, comprised of 125 Northern California rice and bean growers, have installed 11,922 photovoltaic modules on 5 acres in Sutter-Yolo counties, reports Sacramento Business.

The 864-kW solar system, built by Conergy USA, will help power rice and bean dryers during the co-op’s harvest season from September to November. At off-peak times, power and energy credits will rack up for later use. The co-op is expected to reduce energy costs by $226,615 during the first year and offset more than 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide.

Ray Davis, general manager of the cooperative told Sacramento Business that the solar system is perfect for rice- and bean-drying operations and for agriculture-based companies that don’t have to run power 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

The $4.5-million cost to install the solar system has been defrayed by state and federal solar tax incentives and other utility credits. The cooperative has the option to purchase the system after 10 years.

There are about a dozen agriculture-related solar projects installed in the Central Valley, with a significant expansion in California’s agriculture industry predicted by Conergy, according to the article.

In other agricultural news, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are partnering to help farmers turn methane emissions from livestock operations into a renewable energy source, while cutting greenhouse gas emissions. This new agreement expands the AgStar program, a joint EPA-USDA effort, which helps livestock producers reduce methane emissions from their operations.

The EPA and USDA collaboration will provide up to $3.9 million over the next five years to help farms implement biogas recovery systems. Biogas is composed primarily of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, according to the EPA.

Biogas emitted from manure management systems called digesters can be collected and used to produce electricity, heat or hot water.

Currently, about 150 on-farm manure or anaerobic digesters are now operating at livestock facilities , including a Cargill Idaho dairy farm operated by Bettencourt Dairy, Threemile Canyon Farms in Oregon, and Vermont’s Westminster Farms, across the U.S. In 2009, they generated approximately 374,000 MWh equivalent of energy generation.

The EPA estimates there are about 8,000 farms across the U.S. that are good candidates for capturing and using biogas. If they all implemented biogas systems, methane emissions would be reduced by more than 34 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent a year, and generate more than 1,500 megawatts of renewable energy.

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