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More Solar Projects Are Sprouting Up In The Agriculture-Rich San Joaquin Valley

More Solar Projects Are Sprouting Up In The Agriculture-Rich San Joaquin Valley

Agriculture is a $20 billion per year industry in the San Joaquin Valley, and farmers there are the most efficient in the world. But that kind of production comes with a power price tag.

Water pumps, refrigeration and other farm-related uses accounted for 13% and 11% of the total electricity consumed in Fresno and Kern counties respectively in 2009, according to the California Energy Commission. So, it makes sense that growers would be interested in reducing their power bills.

In Delano, grape grower Castle Rock Vineyards recently installed a solar-energy system to power its 280,000-square-foot cold-storage facility – shaving at least $233,000 from its power bills annually.

The system was installed by REC Solar, which featured a profile of the project from Renewable Energy World on its Web site. Castle Rock Vineyards received a federal tax credit, state rebate and bank financing to pay for the 1.1 megawatt system – and is additional proof that clean energy has a place down on the farm.

The system is projected to offset more than 63 million pounds of CO2 emissions, equivalent to removing 6,112 cars from the road, over the next 20 years.

Castle Rock has vineyards in central and southern San Joaquin Valley and in Coachella, near Palm Springs.

With abundant sun, ample land and easy access to the grid, the San Joaquin Valley is considered ripe for solar projects. In fact, Southern California Edison announced today that it inked power-purchase contracts for more than 800 megawatts of power with SunPower Corp. of San Jose and Fotowatio Renewable Ventures of San Francisco that will be created, in part, from projects in Los Banos in Merced County and Arvin and Lamont, both in Kern County.

That is enough power for more than 460,000 average-sized California homes.

A Southern California Edison spokesman said solar is coming of age, making it more economical for utilities committed to increasing their clean-energy portfolio. “This is an important turning point…,” said utility vice president Marc Ulrich in a statement. “The advances in photovoltaic technology, couple with economies of scale, enable SCE to provide Californians with a large-scale power plant’s worth of emission-free energy at a competitive price.”

The contracts include 110 megawatts in Los Banos, scheduled to be operational by year-end 2014; 60 megawatts in Lamont, scheduled to go on-line by Dec. 31, 2013; and 20 megawatts in Arvin, slated to be operational by Sept. 30, 2013.