Energy Incentives Worry Valley Farmers

By Mo Rousso
Chief Technology Officer, HelioPower

John Cox, Californian staff writer, recently highlighted the growing concern over energy and energy related incentives for growers in the Central Valley.

His article, Energy incentives programs worry valley farmers, illustrates how important energy costs are to the agricultural community and how difficult it is to manage those expenditures.

HelioPower has been specializing in the agricultural and food-processing sector for some time.  Out of our work to cut energy use and create new energy solutions, we have gained a pretty good sense of what drives farmers.  We have listened to their concerns including practical solutions, cost sensitivity, strong rate of return, and minimum impact to their business operations.

The article points to a key issue regarding time of use energy demand and the need to lower energy usage during peak hours. These are the same hours that growers most use water irrigation equipment, as an example of one of the critical issues.

From the article: “Adjusting to the time-of-use incentive may require farmers to invest in new irrigation equipment and rework their labor schedules.

Even more worrisome for farmers is the critical peak demand program. Agricultural companies are not always able to reschedule workers, and turning away water already on order may mean they won’t get it back for days — and that may be too late.”

This calls attention to the need for new power generation approaches.  These technologies must generate energy during the critical peak demand.  One such example is the installation HelioPower engineered for Sunnyland Mills in Fresno, CA. 

Sunnyland Mills is the first company in the U.S. to utilize solar power to make bulgur. According to Mike Orlando, Chairman of the Board:

HelioPower on site at Sunnyland Mills solar installation, Fresno, CA.

HelioPower on site at Sunnyland Mills solar installation, Fresno, CA.

“Sunnyland started in 1935 using the sun to dry wheat for bulgur.  We are going back to our roots by utilizing the energy of the sun to produce our products.”  HelioPower was the consultant and contractor for the project.  Since the Sunnyland system was commissioned in 2007, it has produced 102% of expected energy.

This is just one example of how new approaches to energy reduction and generation can serve the farmers in the Central Valley meet the new energy incentives in California.

HelioPower has created a solutions approach that blends energy economics (costs and returns, as well as financing options) and energy engineering (practical design, integrated technologies, and O&M).  The cornerstone to our approach is our PowerAdvisor energy analytics engine that allows us to model potential solutions within the context of our client’s operational needs and that hit the mark with respect to the decision drivers above.  So, when we propose a solution, we will have considered time-of-use electricity rates versus the farmer’s need to schedule water and irrigate his crops.  Only solutions that address needs in this manner become practical and provide value to the agricultural community.

Editor’s Note: Mo Rousso is the Chief Technology Officer for HelioPower. He is a true clean energy veteran, having installed his first solar power system in 1975.  He started the company in 2001 and is now responsible for the engineering of innovative energy solutions and technologies that deliver increased return on investment.