Porterville Mayor Ron Irish, who also attended the unveiling of the project, said Setton’s actions are important at a time when businesses are being lured away from California.

“You don’t invest that amount of money and leave,” he said, noting that the plant employs a number of Porterville residents at a range of wages. “In the environment we have in the state of California, it’s an understatement to say that what they did in terms of contributing to growth and independence is important.”

Installing a solar power project helps processors “to pass on savings and provide more value to their growers,” said, Nader Yarpezeshkan, director of sales and marketing for Cenergy, which has offices in San Diego and Merced.

In addition to the Setton installation, Cenergy has done many commercial agricultural projects in the Central Valley, as well as some “solar farming” industrial projects for utility companies.

Yarpezeshkan said 90 percent of Cenergy’s solar projects on the commercial side are agricultural, ranging from solar for pumping to cooling and to processing agricultural products.

“It’s a hedge on inflating energy costs,” he said. For a pistachio processor, for example, use of solar energy is a way to enable it to play “a global game” and be more sustainable in that world market.

Yarpezeshkan said the installation at Setton is the equivalent of planting 400 acres of pine forest annually.

He said it’s no surprise that agricultural users are turning to companies like his. He pointed to statistics from the California Energy Commission in 2009 that said that pumping water, refrigeration, processing and other farm-related uses amounted to 75 percent of all electricity consumed in the Central Valley.

Jeff Gibbons, grower relations manager for Setton, said pistachio processors that have turned to solar include the nation’s four largest, all in California: Paramount, Setton, Nichols and Primex.

Gibbons said the installation at Setton was “seamless” and is a major boost for reduced energy cost. “And it produces energy right here, taking pressure off the grid,” he said. “It produces power where the need is.”

Gibbons said the weather was favorable this year for pistachio production in California, which leads the nation at about 98.5 percent of the crop. He said, for example, there was not the problem of spiking temperatures soaring above 100 degrees during much of the harvest.

Richard Matoian, executive director of American Pistachio Growers (formerly Western Pistachio Growers), said sizes were larger this year and a cool spring contributed to that. He added that insect damage was low and quality appears good.

Last year was marked by a record crop of 528 million pounds, and this year the total is expected to be a bit over 450 million pounds. Pistachios are an alternate bearing crop.

Grower field prices for last year’s crop, while variable, set records at around $2.50 per pound. This year, prices are in the $2.10 range.

For the first time, Matoian said, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has made a significant purchase of the nut, 6 million pounds for its nutrition programs. Exports remain strong at about 63 percent of the crop.