Peter Rabbit goes solar

11/09/2012 12:30:00 PM
Mike Hornick

Peter Rabbit Farms may be best known as a grower-packer-shipper of leafy greens, bell peppers and eggplant. But a lot more than that is happening on the 5,000 or so acres it farms in California’s Coachella Valley.

There are dates and citrus. And the company grows carrots for Bolthouse Farms.

“We just have our fingers in a lot of different things,” said John Burton, general manager of sales and cooler.

Moreover, Coachella-based Peter Rabbit Farms is a custom cooling company for clients who grow table grapes, other fruits and vegetables. The completion this year of a $1.2 million, 333-kilowatt solar plant will help control costs for those customers, Burton said.

“The solar panels aid us in keeping costs at a consistent level,” he said. “The price of power never ceases to go up. But now we know what our future costs will be. Although this has been very expensive to put in, it does eliminate 50% to 65% of our energy costs on part of our company.”

Burton estimates payback on the solar investment at four to five years. Its projected lifespan is 25 years. REC Solar was the contractor.

“It puts quite a big dent in our power bill every month,” he said. “The solar technology has finally caught up with the real-world costs of doing business. It keeps costs down for our customers and ourselves.”

The same near-constant sunshine fueling the solar panels has been good for Peter Rabbit’s leaf lettuce. Romaine, red leaf, green leaf and butter lettuces, along with spinach, all start just before Thanksgiving.

“Romaine will probably be our first crop, and it’s virtually a perfect stand,” Burton said Oct. 22. “It’s growing by leaps and bounds with 90-degree days and 65-degree nights. You couldn’t ask for a better growing temperature and sunlight.”

Red bell peppers started Oct. 29, eggplant around Oct. 15.

Red, green and yellow bell peppers, along with eggplant, go until the first hard freeze or to market saturation. Some years the freeze comes as late as January or February, but typically one comes along in December to kill off plants.

Leaf lettuce, though, runs all the way through March.



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