- California's high energy costs -- among the highest in the nation -- make solar atractive for agricultural operations
- Utilities do not allow growers to over-produce their power needs because they are required by law to purchase that power
- Water is pumped from 800 feet to irrigate forages grown for the large-herd dairy
Water used to grow the wheat crop for Mike Monteiro, left, and his brother Manuel, is pumped from 800 feet. To offset the heavy pumping costs Lakeside Dairy installed a solar power system, which covers about 75 percent of the operation’s utility costs.
Solar generating systems such as this were financially out-of-reach for the cash-strapped dairy, but thanks in large part to federal and state financial incentives and an Ag lender willing to work with him, Monteiro was able to have a turn-key system installed with no money down.
“Financially it didn’t make sense for me to go out and put in solar,” Monteiro said. “For me the finances had to work; even if it was merely a break-even option in terms of my return I saw it as a good investment.”
Monteiro continued: “I needed assistance to purchase the system, which fortunately was available through the federal government and the state.”
The $3.5 million project was kick-started with a 30% federal grant aimed at helping producers develop green energy sources. Monteiro was able to make the project further attractive to his Ag lender, Rabobank, by showing a 15-cent per kilowatt hour (kWh) direct payment from the State of California for five years. Monteiro receives a monthly check for his power production from a program called the California Solar Initiative (CSI).
Together, the monthly check from the CSI program and the annual savings of about $160,000 in power costs was enough for Rabobank to loan Monteiro the money for his project.
“The benefits of solar are very attractive to agriculture,” said Greg Aguilar, vice president with the Clean Energy Finance and Leasing Department with Rabobank in Paso Robles, Calif. “Solar works well for Ag-related businesses like this because they have the space to install these systems.”
According to Monteiro, Rabobank has been an enthusiastic partner in his solar project because of the government incentives and the low maintenance costs when compared to other energy-generating projects such as methane collection and manure digesters.
“My first thought as a dairyman was to capture methane gas and run a generator to produce electricity,” Monteiro said. “I just wasn’t comfortable with that scenario because of the amount of emissions those generators were putting out. Solar is clean energy and my maintenance costs are next to nothing.”
As he continued to consider his power-generating options to reduce his input costs, Monteiro began to receive phone calls from investors looking to lease or buy space from him to install solar panels on his property. Some wanted to simply rent space in his farm fields; others were interested in leasing space on several acres of south-facing free stall roofs.
“When people kept calling and asking me about this that began my thinking to install solar myself,” Monteiro said.