When REC Solar finished a solar energy installation for Taylor Farms in September in Gonzales, Calif., it represented the company's 100th completed project in the agriculture sector.

Garrett Colburn, director of marketing communications and demand generation for REC Solar, said the 20-year-old San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based company has done most of its ag-related work in the past 10 years.

In the past two years, he said, agriculture has represented nearly one-third of REC's business.

"Acceptance and demand for solar are increasing in the agriculture industry," Colburn said.

"Business owners see solar as an efficient way to offset the high energy costs associated with water pumps, cold storage, drying or hulling equipment and other elements of the industry.

"Simultaneously, installation costs continue to decrease, resulting in increased adoption, which leads to more publicly visible installations.

"Solar is now commonplace in markets like California's Central Valley, where we see a lot of systems in fields, alongside dairies and at processing or packaging facilities."

Colburn said prices for solar panels reached record lows in 2016, dropping the payback period to four or five years. He said Jan. 3 that REC was working on more than a dozen projects related to agriculture.

Colburn said REC primarily operates in California and Hawaii, where high energy costs have created high demand for solar, but the company also has completed ag and food industry projects in Texas, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. The company finished another project for Taylor Farms in Dallas late in 2016, and another is in process in Tracy, Calif., he said.

Marketing specialist King Truong said Vista Solar Inc., Santa Clara, Calif., does most of its business in California, where brownouts are commonplace because of a strained grid.

"With energy independence, growers and packers can better operate at full capacity," Truong said.

"If producing more is important for the business, then it's an important consideration for growers and packers in California. Imagine not having to pay your electricity bill, or producing your own energy like you do your food. With the growing development of energy storage, growers/packers can soon be 100% energy independent from the utilities. Eventually, more and more businesses will consider alternative sources of power."

Truong said Jan. 3 that Vista was wrapping up a second project with Uesugi Farms, Gilroy, Calif. Truong said Vista initially installed a 792-kilowatt solar solution for the grower in 2013.

"To maintain the facility's solar savings and operation efficiency, we're adding an additional 602-kilowatt solar energy capacity," he said.

"Uesugi Farms is one of the many California businesses out there proving profits and sustainability can happen together. It's a win-win for the agricultural sector and the environment."

Solar demand isn't limited to California, or even the U.S.

Westmoreland Sales, Leamington, Ontario, recently completed a solar panel installation on its largest packing and distribution center.

Account and marketing manager Jimmy Coppola said that on some sunny days the more than 2,000 solar panels can supply 100% of the energy used at the facility, which runs three shifts.

"Offsetting our consumption with a project like this is not only helping us reduce our dependence on the grid but also helps us reduce our carbon footprint at the same time," he said.

Westmoreland, which grows and packs greenhouse produce under the TopLine Farms brand, expects the project to cut the company's emissions 532 tons per year, Coppola said.

"Reducing our carbon footprint is always something we are working on," he said.

"This does help position us better in the minds of retailers and consumers as it shows our current commitment to sustainability and future commitments, as this project will continue to help us reduce our carbon footprint well into the future."

 
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