There are few places better suited for a solar energy project than the California desert, where several grower-shippers have taken advantage of the abundance of sunlight to slash their energy costs while preserving the environment.

Bagdasarian Inc.

Richard Bagdasarian Inc. in Mecca, Calif., started drawing power for its packinghouse from its new 300-kilowatt photovoltaic solar energy system in January, said Franz De Klotz, vice president of marketing.

“Adding solar energy to our sustainability matrix, which also includes using Tier 4 tractors in the field and packing our product in reusable containers as it goes to market, reflects our ultimate goal of responsibly lowering our carbon footprint,” Nick Bozick, president and owner, said in a news release.

“Providing clean, reliable power is a key component to successful entrepreneurship in California,” he said.

The technology, which uses dual-axis tracking technology rather than traditional flat, fixed solar plates, is expected to displace 540 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, which the company said is equivalent to the annual consumption of electricity for 80 homes.

The Bagdasarian facility will generate electricity with no air emissions, no waste production and no water use.

In the future, the firm plans to incorporate solar in several of its field pumping stations and in other packing facilities.

Five Crowns

Five Crowns Marketing, Brawley, Calif., launched its 2.2-megawatt photovoltaic system early in 2012, said Daren Van Dyke, director of sales and marketing.

The project, which he said is one of the largest of its kind in Southern California, can now supply 90% of the company’s power needs.

“Energy costs are high, and everyone wants to do the proper thing for the environment,” Van Dyke said.
“In the long run, it makes economic sense.”

About 10% of the system’s solar cells are on mounted on the roof of the firm’s cooling facility, and the others are on fixed racks on the ground.

The system was installed in less than three months, he said.

Prima Bella

The project should offset 85% of the power demands of the cooling facility and processing plant for Prima Bella Produce Inc., the company’s Tracy, Calif.-based partner.

The program was made more attractive by grants, tax incentives and accelerated depreciation, the company said.

Peter Rabbit Farms

Federal incentives gave some companies the push they needed to plunge into solar energy, said John Burton, general manager of sales and cooler for Peter Rabbit Farms, Coachella, Calif.

The company launched a solar program in time for the summer season last year. Once the program has been in operation for a full year, the company will analyze the results.

Peter Rabbit now produces up to 55% of its own energy.

For the first time, the advantages of going solar brought the payback number down to a reasonable amount of years, Burton said.

Peter Rabbit Farms expects to recoup its full investment within four to six years.

“Anytime you can get your investment back in that amount of time, it pays to make some capital expenditures on solar power,” he said.

“We’re very optimistic that it was the right move for us,” Burton said.

“We’ll probably look at taking the next step and doing more of it.”

It’s a great idea for a produce company that relies on sunlight to grow its fruits and vegetables to use the sun to power its building, as well, he said.

“It’s a great addition to our company,” Burton said.