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.