The solar power system designed by Cenergy Power of Merced will produce more than 2.6 million kilowatt hours of clean energy each year that will be used to sort, roast and package an estimated 80 million pounds of pistachios annually at Setton.

Cohen said the company had considered turning to solar for years, but the payback period previously took too long.

“Then the price for solar panels dropped,” he said, and that and other developments meant a greatly reduced payback likelihood — now pegged at just under four years for a system that cost $6 million paid up front by Setton compared to previous expectations of payback in seven to 10 years.

The federal government will pick up $1.8 million of that in the form of a cash grant. And net metering of excess power into Southern California Edison’s grid should wipe out another $1.8 million of the cost.

Cohen said the sales to Edison are resulting from the California Solar Initiative that requires power companies to buy power at 22 cents per kilowatt for the first five years of the system’s operation.

In other steps to greener operation, Setton recycles the water it uses in pistachio processing and uses it to irrigate orchards. It also turns all of its hull waste from nut processing into cattle feed, keeping 300 million pounds of waste out of Central Valley landfills each year.

“They seem to be on the leading edge of things,” said Tim Peltzer, president of Peltzer Farm Management in Porterville, which farms 600 acres of pistachios from northern Kern County to Lindsay. The company markets its own pistachios through Setton and farms 60 acres for them.

Setton owns and farms thousands of acres of pistachios, in addition to marketing for independent growers.

Peltzer, who was among growers attending the unveiling of the solar project in mid-July, said he’s “happy that Setton is here. I think they might be the check for Paramount. A little competition is a good thing.”

Paramount Farming is far and away the No. 1 pistachio processor.