As major users of energy, America's farms are natural candidates for renewable-energy efforts. That is especially true here in the San Joaquin Valley, where farming is a $20 billion per- year enterprise, temperatures hit triple digits, power bills are sky high and air pollution ranks among the worst in the nation.
As it turns out, farmers, especially in California, have made substantial gains in the use of alternative-energy sources. With about 25% of all facilities, California led the nation in 2009 with 1,956 farms and ranches producing renewable energy, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Solar dominated, with 1,906 California farmers using photovoltaic and thermal solar panels. The majority of those - more than 64,000 panels - were installed since 2005. Wind energy was used on 134 farms in California, while methane digesters were installed and used on 14 properties.
Solar power also has blossomed on farms nationally over the last four years. Prior to 2000, only 18,881 solar panels were on farms and ranches. Between 2005 and 2009, more than 108,000 panels were installed.
"Farmers and ranchers are increasingly adopting renewable-energy practices on their operations, and reaping the important economic and environmental benefits," said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Farmers in nearly every state reported savings on their energy bill. The survey also noted that subsidies and other sources helped finance some of the installation cost. In California, about 41% of the average $79,000 cost of installing solar came from outside sources.
All this makes me wonder what the future holds. Technological advances, such as this small-scale biomass project with ultra-low emissions suitable for urban areas, are coming fast, and the price of solar continues to fall. Some people predict parity is just around the corner. Possibly in 2012.
And one has to wonder if increasing oil prices, and the increasing realization from military and Big Business that green is good, will spur more energy-saving and renewable efforts among California farmers and corporations.
Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley have adopted some cool renewable projects - such as this grape grower in Delano - and I'm betting more are on the horizon.
photo by cleantechnia.com