- 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.
SPG Solar of Petaluma, Calif. built and installed the green-energy system for Monteiro. Optimized with a solar tracking system that constantly orients solar panels to receive direct rays from the sun, hundreds of solar panels sit atop structures in an open field next to the dairy.
According to Dylan Dupre, vice president of sales with SPG Solar, the company has seen much interest in the system. Two other nearby dairy and farming operations in California’s San Joaquin Valley also have similar solar power systems installed. Several agricultural processing and packing operations have added solar to cut their input costs as well.
While California’s financial incentives were helpful in attracting grower buy-in of the technology, Dupre also believes California’s high energy costs were a significant factor in early-innovator adoption of the systems by California growers and agribusiness.
“It’s easy for us to show the economics of this in California,” Dupre said.
Monteiro says the solar generating system didn’t completely take him off the grid, but it does cover about 75 percent of his total electrical needs in a state where power costs can easily exceed 25 cents per kilowatt hour.
Power collected from the panels runs not only the dairy barn and the lighting in the numerous cattle sheds on the facility, but it also runs two of the farm’s wells, a manure separator, pumps for the flush systems in the free stall barns, all the lighting on the 140-acre dairy and the pumps for the drinking water on the dairy.
Monteiro has nothing but praise in working with SPG Solar. The company provides maintenance and monitoring of the system, plus a written guarantee with financial incentives that it will produce a minimum of 1.7 million kWh per year. If production levels fall below that guarantee, SPG Solar will pay Monteiro for the lost production.
Additional benefits of the system include maintenance warrantees of 10 years on the inverters and other equipment, and 20 years on the solar panels.
“There is no extra cost to me,” Monteiro said. “I like that.”
One of the additional benefits of the solar system in terms of cash flow is how net metering works in California. Pacific Gas & Electric, Monteiro’s power provider, bills him on an annual basis after factoring in his annual use and the power generated by the solar panels over that same period.
Monteiro sees this as a win-win for him and California as the state pushes power companies to generate more of their power from green energy sources, such as solar. California energy companies are under a mandate to produce at least one-third of their energy from renewable resources by 2020.
A next step for Monteiro is the issue of cap and trade credits for green energy production. Because he produces a green energy resource, Monteiro believes he may be eligible for credits under a system that allows energy users to use pollution-generating sources above a government-mandated level by purchasing green energy credits from those who fall below established levels.
“We’re wondering if we have some credits available to us, and how we can get paid for those credits,” he said. “I’m sure SPG Solar will let us know if something like that becomes available in the future.”