The Curtimade Dairy in Tulare, Calif., is among the growing number of agribusinesses that are increasingly turning to the sun for electricity in California. The nearly century-old family-run dairy recently hosted an open house to show off its 719 kilowatt photovoltaic tracking array, which was installed by SPG Solar. The SunSeeker tracker system already is saving the dairy $145,000 a year in electric costs.
“It is expected to save the dairy over $5.6 million over the 25 year warranted life of the solar panels,” said Dylan Dupre, SPG's vice president of sales. “The dairy worked with their bank to secure 100 percent financing for the solar installation. They have now replaced their utility bill with a loan payment (which is a net savings),” he said. The loan amortizes for seven years, after which the electricity produced by the array will essentially be free for the dairy.
The payback may be even slightly quicker. Dupre said the system is producing at 108 percent of what SPG expected when it installed the array.
With time-of-use rates and rising electric costs hitting harder in California than elsewhere in the U.S. Solar power is quickly coming into parity (same cost as) with other forms of electric generation. And since farms are often most active during daylight hours, when the its hottest and the peak demand is greatest, solar systems help offest those higher energy rates. The system at Curtimade is powering 85 percent of the dairy's operations, according to SPG.
Dupre said the Curtimade installation is just one of many SPG has installed for California’s Central Valley. “We have installed solar tracking systems for a wide range of agribusinesses—dairies, growers, processors and packers. They all have lowered their operating costs from day one and are improving their bottom line with solar, which offsets a large percentage of their ‘expensive’ peak-hour electricity costs,” he said.
“This is proof that solar is at a point where it can be cost competitive and a real solution to immediately lower operating costs. The dairy industry is experiencing hard times with rising feed prices and volatile milk prices,” Dupre said. But with today’s financing options, dairies and other agribusinesses can go solar and reduce electricity costs, with no upfront costs, at least in California.