New solar energy project powers almond processing plant

Posted on March 30th, 2010

Solar Project

Solar Project

BALLICO, CA – March 29, 2010. On four and one-half acres south of the Hilltop Ranch almond processing plant west of Turlock, California, 58 giant solar arrays slowly follow the sun across the sky from morning to evening. The new solar facility provides enough electric power to eliminate 77% of the PG&E power Hilltop Ranch has been using at its processing facility, and will pay back the company’s solar investment in just over 7 years.

“It’s a smart investment for Hilltop Ranch and our growers, and good for the environment, too,” says Dave Long, company president. “Over 25 years, the installation of this solar facility will save harmful emissions equivalent to taking about 258 cars off the road for 25 years. It will also help to reduce energy demand for foreign oil, and is the only kind of energy production that is 100% clean and silent.” The new solar plant built by JKB Energy is rated to provide up to 574 kilowatts at peak output, or an estimated 1.8 million kilowatt hours per year.

The Hilltop Ranch almond processing plant receives shelled almonds and cleans, sizes, grades, and packs them for export to over 65 countries, as well as for North American candy, bakery, and natural food manufacturers. Almond growers from throughout the Central Valley deliver their almonds to the Ballico facility for processing.

“It means lower costs for Hilltop Ranch and higher returns for our almond growers,” says Long. “It’s the kind of innovation our industry is quick to embrace, because we know that when we fix our energy costs for the long-run, the investment pays a dividend down the road.”

The construction of the solar energy system at Hilltop Ranch was funded by a combination of company investment, with a federal grant and state-funded rebates through PG&E. Each retailer of electricity is mandated to increase the percentage of its electrical load served by renewable energy by at least one percent annually. So over five years, Hilltop Ranch will receive PG&E rebates for about 25% of the total project cost, and has already received a federal grant covering about 30% of the cost. The balance of the cost is self-funded by the company.

During daylight hours, the power generated exceeds plant requirements, and the excess power flows into the PG&E electric grid, offsetting Hilltop Ranch’s cost for energy during the dark hours of plant operation.

The solar energy system produces electricity as DC current from each Photovoltaic array, not unlike the solar panels on the International Space Station. But before solar power can enter the power grid, it is converted by two 260 kilowatt inverters to AC current, the same electric current that is served by electric utilities to their customers. For the safety of plant and utility workers, the solar power system is designed to shut down during a utility outage so there will be no back current that might provide a risk of electrocution at the point of power failure.

In addition to its solar power initiative, Hilltop Ranch has also invested in a new fleet of “green” diesel trucks that comply with the Clean Trucks component of the Comprehensive Truck Management Program for the Port of Oakland. These new low emissions trucks will help to reduce pollution in the congested area around the port, where diesel exhaust accounts for most of the pollution that has contributed to a risk of cancer three times higher in West Oakland than other communities in the region.

The Hilltop Ranch fleet of four new tractor trucks will haul export containers of almonds to the port for overseas shipments, and qualify for admission to port facilities which now restrict access by trucks older than 2004, unless the vehicles are retrofitted, or of a new clean emissions design.

Hilltop Ranch, Inc. is a grower, handler and exporter of California almonds, founded by Dave and Christine Long. The company processes and will ship more than 60 million pounds of almonds this year, as part of a California industry that now supplies over 85% of the world’s almonds.

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