California’s Merrill Farms Sees Big Rewards in Going Solar

Merrill Farms
Image courtesy of Merrill Farms.

Merrill Farms, a fourth-generation Salinas, California vegetable and berry grower, have announced solar projects that will generate approximately $60,000 per acre of revenue annually and gross energy savings of approximately $12 million over 25 years. In addition, 505 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) will be eliminated each year – which is equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions of 53 homes or taking 8 diesel freight trucks off the road each year. Alta Energy worked with Merrill Farms to site the solar systems on mostly unproductive areas of two ranches in order to preserve as much fertile acreage for crop production as possible.

The combined size of the solar systems at Merrill Farms will be 1.6 megawatts and will offset nearly 80 percent of the electricity consumption on two large growing sites. The systems will utilize just six acres of farmland, most of which is unproductive, at these ranches.

“My family has been stewards of the land since 1933,” said Ross Merrill, CEO of Merrill Farms. “We intend to continue this tradition using best practices and new technologies. When I sat down with the Alta Energy team, they analyzed 13 of our growing operations and facilities, went through their financial analysis of our solar potential and identified the optimal sites. After this analysis, I saw clearly that solar was a ‘no brainer’ for our growing operations. Alta Energy cut through the complexity of all the variables in a solar project, showed us various trade-offs and options, explained ways to complete the projects efficiently and profitably, and expedited the deployment process.”

Merrill Farms gained further financial benefits by utilizing the 30 percent federal Income Tax Credit and accelerated depreciation, and choosing a financing structure that required virtually no money down and a loan that will be paid off by the energy savings.

“Solar is an economic and environmental boon for California agriculture,” said Alta Energy CEO Sam Lee. “Growers, processors and shippers can save money, utilize less-productive farmland, reap operational benefits and simultaneously become more sustainable. With the high electricity rates paid by California farmers, the lower cost of solar, incentives and favorable policies, solar is ripe for California agriculture.”

These solar projects are among the first installations in the Salinas Valley region of California. The region is known as the “Salad Bowl of the World,” as it is one of the largest and most productive agricultural areas.

“Given all of the business uncertainties our members face – especially concerning labor and water – solar energy can offer an opportunity to provide certainty and savings with respect to energy,” commented Jim Bogart, president of Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, one of the leading agricultural associations in the United States. “Considering the potential financial and marketing advantages, it makes sense for commercial farmers to explore adopting solar, as it may benefit their growing and processing operations.”

There is another major incentive for growers to go solar: their customers. “More and more of our customers expect us to incorporate sustainability into our operations,” Ross Merrill noted. “We believe supply chain transparency is a trend that will only accelerate and sustainability will likely become more important to both our customers and the produce consumer. As a grower, we are trying to do as much as we can. Solar works for us.”

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This post was prepared by Solar Thermal Magazine staff.

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