Client Spotlight: Q&A with Nicole Flewell, Director of Sustainability at Taylor Farms

Taylor Farms is North America’s favorite maker of salads and healthy fresh foods. The company focuses on innovation by consistently developing new products and improving production methods. Taylor Farms is family owned and based in Salinas, California with twelve operating companies and distribution facilities throughout North America.

 

Nicole Flewell, Director of Sustainability at Taylor Farms
Nicole Flewell, Director of Sustainability at Taylor Farms

REC Solar recently completed a solar installation at the Taylor Farms facility in Dallas, Texas, which is one of several solar projects for Taylor Farms. Beyond solar, the company has many renewable energy programs in place. We asked Nicole Flewell, Director of Sustainability at Taylor Farms, to talk more about these initiatives.

Congratulations on your latest facility opening in Dallas and the completion of the solar project there. Can you tell us more about what prompted Taylor Farms to make such a big push to prioritize sustainability initiatives?

Thank you! It’s a very exciting time for us at Taylor Farms. Taylor Farms has always been committed to sustainability and being good stewards of the environment. We began making significant investments to renewable and alternative energy in 2012, and we haven’t looked back. Taylor Farms is always looking for opportunities to maximize value to our customers and grow in capacity as well. The consumer is changing and many want to find products from companies who have sustainability at the core of their business models.

For example, the 2015 Nielsen Global Corporate Sustainability Report states that 66 percent of global consumers say they’re willing to pay more for sustainable brands. This aligns with our mission to provide sustainably sourced products.

Our goal is to make a difference and our retail, deli, and food-service partners recognize that vision and how it translates the story of the product, and our company, to consumers. It makes good business sense, it’s good for the environment, and contributes to raising the bar on sustainability within the entire industry.

What kinds of renewable energy investments has Taylor Farms made?

Our first major investment was in 2012 at our facility in Salinas, CA where we installed a 1 MW fuel cell made by Bloom Energy that converts fuel into electricity through a clean, electro-chemical process. Since then, we have installed a wind turbine, four major solar installations, a cogeneration project as well as a water recycling plant.

This image shows the solar system installed by REC Solar at the Taylor Farms facility in Gonzales, California. You can also see the wind turbine installed at the facility in the background.
This image shows the solar system installed by REC Solar at the Taylor Farms facility in Gonzales, California. You can also see the wind turbine installed at the facility in the background.

Are there any unexpected ways that these investments in renewable energy have impacted your business?

Our commitment to renewable energy projects has brought many benefits to our business. Not only do these investments make good business sense, but they continue to motivate our employees and customers. It’s a great feeling to know that the company you are working for, or purchasing your healthy meal from, is making such a large commitment to doing the right thing.

 

 

What advice would you give to other companies in the food industry who are looking at solar?

Solar power, and other forms of renewable and alternative energy are a great way to manage energy costs in a predictable way and create a platform for promoting sustainable business practices. It’s important for companies in the food industry or any other sector to understand their energy profile to identify the best mix of alternative energy investments that can help the company meet their energy goals. Every company should understand their energy usage and establish an energy strategy for achieving and tracking their goals.

What sort of feedback have you received from end customers, employees, partners and retail buyers about the sustainability efforts?

Taylor Farms’ investments in sustainability projects have been widely embraced by customers and partners nationwide. We plan to continue pursuing opportunities to lead renewables projects across North America, with each project taking the company one-step further in its dedication to minimizing our environmental footprint, while delivering healthy fresh foods to our consumers.

To see more about the Taylor Farms sustainability efforts, visit http://www.taylorfarms.com/art-of-growing/sustainability.

Castoro Cellars Pairs Winemaking & Solar Power for a Winning Blend

California’s Central Coast wine region ranks as one of the top viticultural areas on the planet, with more than 300 wineries spread across the area’s rolling hills and lush valleys. A growing number of local winemakers’ share a commitment to sustainability, which includes investing in solarphotovoltaic (PV) systems that offset electricity costs with the same clean energy source that gives life to their vineyards.

California’s Central Coast wine region ranks as one of the top viticultural areas on the planet, with more than 300 wineries spread across the area’s rolling hills and lush valleys. A growing number of local winemakers’ share a commitment to sustainability, which includes investing in solar photovoltaic (PV) systems that offset electricity costs with the same clean energy source that gives life to their vineyards.

Templeton-based Castoro Cellars was an early Central Coast solar adopter and has continued to add new PV capacity since its first installation in 2006. The company’s initial systems power its Cobble Creek Vineyards’ tasting room, a nearby house and a small well pump. The 18 kilowatts (KW) of arrays built by REC Solar incorporate both ground-mount and rooftop solar elements and generate more than 30,000 kilowatt-hours (KWh) annually.

“The reason we went solar was that it was the right thing to do,” said Niels Udsen, owner of Castoro Cellars. “Our original goal on the first project was to get to the first tier of power on the Pacific Gas & Electric rates. Even then, we were in the fifth tier with a lot of our power for the first one, so it didn’t take that long for it to pay for itself, like three to five years.”

The second round of commercial solar installations at Castoro took place in 2012 and consist of a pair of ground-mount arrays and a rooftop system built by REC Solar at the company’s Dos Viñas estate vineyards. The 61.4 KW installed capacity of the three systems generates some 106,500 KWh per year, offsetting nearly 100% of the electricity requirements of a pair of sizeable well pumps and the adjoining apartment, according to Udsen. The installation also paid for itself in a few years.

While a true believer in sustainable, environmentally conscious agriculture practices, the Castoro proprietor also sees the economic benefits of solar. “Financially, it makes sense; if you’re a long-term thinker, it’s completely rational to do,” he explained.

Castoro’s opening forays into solar will soon be eclipsed by a new project that dwarfs the existing systems in size, power generation—and return on investment. Construction by REC Solar is under way on a 625 KW ground-mount installation that will cover three acres in the Stone’s Throw vineyards where muscat canelli grapes grew until recently. The system is scheduled to come online before the end of the year, and when completed, will produce 1.042 million KWh of clean energy annually.

“We would’ve done it many years earlier, but we had to get sole ownership of the property before we could, and we did that last year,” Udsen said. “The system is for our processing facility, where we have fermentation tanks, refrigeration, bottling lines, compressors, whatever it takes to run a good-size winery. We’re shooting for a goal of 100% offset.”

As with all the Castoro solar systems, Udsen will pay for the new installation, an investment that he’s happy to make. “I’m lucky enough to have a good enough cashflow and revolving line of credit that I’ve never specifically financed any of the projects. I’m paying for it as part of our doing business.”

“We’re paying over $250,000 in power bills a year, and it keeps going up,” he said. “With the offset from the new solar setup, I can take that cashflow down to about $30,000 with just the financing aspect of it, and we then have more than $200,000 that can be applied each year to paying off the system. Along with the tax credits we get, it won’t take much to get payback, somewhere between four and five years.”

The Stone’s Throw project will benefit from California’s aggregate net metering (NEM-A) program for agriculture, which allows landowners to choose the best location for solar or wind on their property and then use the power generated to offset their bills from any of their electricity meters on the same or contiguous properties.

“I didn’t realize when we were first getting the project quoted that with the new net metering systems, you can put any meter on the property on that same system, it doesn’t have to be set directly to the meter, “Udsen noted. “There will be several different pumps included, and one of them is quite a large irrigation well pump.”

In addition to its fine pinots and zins, Castoro is also known for its live music programming, especially the annual Beaverstock Festival, a fundraiser for the Templeton public schools, which last year featured established and up-and-coming acts such as War, Dawes and La Santa Cecilia. A friend’s mobile solar generator has helped power the event in recent years, but Udsen would like to have a more substantial solar presence at future shows.

The music fest is not the only place where Udsen wants to add more solar. “We’re building a distillery, and initially there’s no power on the site, so we’re using a generator. Once we get the power, it would be prime spot for solar everywhere up there.”

Please contact us to start a commercial solar energy evaluation for your business or organization. 

 

Windset Farms Harvests the Sun and Saves Thousands of Dollars in Energy Costs with Solar

An ever-growing number of U.S. farmers and agribusiness owners have decided to integrate solar power systems into their operations. This movement has been fueled by a combination of factors, including significant price drops in solar installations; subsidies and other incentives available at the local, state and national levels; attractive financing options; and a general awareness of the long-term cost saving and sustainability benefits of producing your own energy.

An ever-growing number of U.S. farmers and agribusiness owners have decided to integrate solar power systems into their operations. This movement has been fueled by a combination of factors, including significant price drops in solar installations; subsidies and other incentives available at the local, state and national levels; attractive financing options; and a general awareness of the long-term cost saving and sustainability benefits of producing your own energy.

One of the latest agricultural operations to take advantage of solar’s savings is Windset Farms, which runs a large hydroponic greenhouse complex located in the sun-kissed Santa Maria Valley in northern Santa Barbara County.  Windset is well known for growing GMO-free tomatoes, cucumbers and other produce year-round.

Adding to its sustainability commitment, Windset Farms recently commissioned REC Solar to install a 1 MW flat-rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) array built on its shipping and packing building. Completed and interconnected to the grid in August 2015, the installation now generates an estimated 1,662,100 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy annually, saving the company more than $245,000 per year in electricity costs.

“As a greenhouse grower, we do require a large amount of energy, and we like to offset that energy use and reduce our carbon footprint,” said Tim Thornton, facilities manager at Windset Farms. “In working with REC Solar, every one of my goals has been met a hundred percent.”

Naturally, Windset Farm sought to maximize the return on its solar investment. REC Solar designed the PV system to maximize long-term value with a particular eye on offsetting peak commercial electricity rates.

The final installation, comprised of 4,032 high-quality photovoltaic panels, features tailored design and engineering solutions for each of the building’s two primary roof slopes.

On the west-facing slope, REC Solar deployed flush-mounted panels with a custom racking solution, increasing energy generation on bright California summer afternoons. On the east-facing slope, the team installed a second array of southerly tilted panels, helping to ensure strong year-round system performance. The design not only provides Windset an optimal combination of energy generation and value, it also avoids penetrating the building’s roof, reducing long-term maintenance costs.

“REC Solar helped us overcome some unique construction challenges, like high winds and site access restrictions,” explained David Wesley, director of projects at Windset Farms. “To top it off, the system was easy to finance and helped us save thousands of dollars on our energy bills immediately.”

 

Over the years, REC Solar has designed and installed solar on more than three dozen farms, wineries, and food and beverage facilities in California. Each installation is unique, with some facilities looking to offset their energy costs for water pumping and others seeking to lower their electricity bills for cold storage and tourist operations.

“Since we work with our customers from start to finish, we can provide tailored financing, design and operations and maintenance (O&M) options that help each business meet its energy savings targets,” said Ryan Park, director of business development at REC Solar.

Solar technology is an obvious decision for organizations like Windset Farms, which already employs a variety of energy-efficiency and sustainability technologies, including water collection and recycling, carbon-neutral biomass burners, and heat-loss prevention screens. The added economic and environmental benefits beautifully complement the organization’s long-term financial and sustainability goals.

“Windset Farms is already a clear leader in sustainability practices, and we’re pleased to help them to extend their leadership even further,” Park noted.

When a plentiful harvest of the sun’s energy combines with the high yields of a well-run sustainable agriculture operation, the results are as satisfying as the taste of a fresh tomato on a sweltering summer afternoon.

Efficient Commercial Solar Installs: Two REC Solar Time Lapse Videos

The first is from IKEA’s southwestern US distribution center in Tejon, California. The 1.8 MW DC system covers 216,000-square-feet of the expansive rooftop, and produced 3.05 million kWh of electric power in 2013, over 110% of expected yearly production.

Below are two time-lapse videos filmed at two REC Solar installations.

The first is from IKEA’s southwestern US distribution center in Tejon, California. The 1.8 MW DC system covers 216,000-square-feet of the expansive rooftop, and produced 3.05 million kWh of electric power in 2013, over 110% of expected yearly production.

The second time lapse displays a solar installation for Pandol Bros., Inc., an agricultural facility based in Delano, California. This 1.135 MW DC solar array is projected to produce 1,900,000 kWh of solar power annually, powering the Pandol Bros. fresh produce cold storage, packing and shipping facility.

While time lapse videos do not capture all details of commercial solar installations, large solar systems like these can be completed in 4 to 6 months, depending on size and permitting requirements. Proper planning for rooftop or ground site preparation, environmental compliance, utility infrastructure upgrades, etc. helps to eliminate potential delays in the construction process.

If you’ve got questions about solar installation times and the construction process for your farm or facility, please let us know.

 

How Solar Reduced a California Farm’s Electric Bill by 75%

Today’s farmers are increasingly using the sun’s energy to grow more than just fruits and vegetables. Solar power systems have become a new solution for reducing the energy costs of water pumps, refrigeration, vineyard wine processing, and many other energy-intensive agriculture applications.

Today’s farmers are increasingly using the sun’s energy to grow more than just fruits and vegetables. Solar power systems have become a new solution for reducing the energy costs of water pumps, refrigeration, vineyard wine processing, and many other energy-intensive agriculture applications.

According to a 2009 USDA survey, nearly 8,000 farms had installed solar electric systems for various agricultural uses, and that number has no doubt increased significantly over the last several years, since solar installation prices have fallen by 60%.

REC Solar alone has installed solar systems for more than two-dozen large and small growers, vineyards, and agricultural facilities, offsetting the growing electricity requirements for 21st century farming.

How Modern Agriculture Uses Electricity

Modern farms rely on electric power for many day-to-day energy intensive agricultural tasks, including:

  • Agriculture irrigation
  • Milking and dairy production
  • Vineyard restaurant and hospitality operations
  • Vineyard and microbrewery bottle processing
  • Running fans to heat and cool barns for dairy cows
  • Cold storage for milk, dairy products, grains, fruits, and vegetables
  • Security and task lighting
  • Electric fences, and much more.

Solar with Agriculture Case Study: Vignolo Farms, Delano, CA

One of the latest agricultural producers to go solar is Vignolo Farms, a family owned potato, pistachio, almond, and grape farmer based in California’s San Joaquin Valley, where 80% of California table grapes are grown.

The Vignolo farm’s annual electric bill was hundreds of thousands of dollars due to various aspects of operations. One of the biggest energy expenses came from the farm’s state-of-the art cold storage and packing facility, an essential building, but costly in terms of energy usage.

After REC Solar completed a comprehensive evaluation of Vignolo’s utility bill, solar potential, and financial options using a proprietary financial analysis tool, REC Solar designed, engineered, and installed a 1.07 MW ground mount solar PV system on a four acre field adjacent to the cold storage facility.

The Vignolo’s new solar array now offsets 75% of the storage facility’s electrical power usage. With local rebates, the 30% federal investment tax credit, and other tax incentives, the Vignolo family will see a payback in the 5th year. By choosing a capital purchase, the Vignolo family is expected to save millions of dollars over the solar system’s 30 year expected lifetime.

While saving on operating costs was important, the family also considers itself to be stewards of the land. They’re proud that their new solar system will substantially reduce their farm’s carbon footprint and contribute toward their goal of energy independence.

Solar Benefits for Rural Farms

Solar is also increasingly financially beneficial to rural farms that rely on expensive propane, oil, or other fossil fuel generators, or those that are considering paying for grid power lines to be extended.

With today’s new solar plus energy storage technologies, a rural California farm can now install a cost-effective off-grid solar energy solution that is quiet, sustainable, and not dependent on an expensive delivery of propane fuel that has unpredictable fluctuating prices.

If the farm would rather preserve its capitol, today’s solar PPA financing can also eliminate up front costs for both solar and storage, while giving agricultural and dairy producers a lower-cost solution for bringing more electricity—and its many applications—to their land.

Get more information about solar energy solutions for farms and dairies by contacting REC Solar for a custom evaluation of your utility costs and solar potential.