California Farmers Cheer Renewable Energy Decision

Posted on Thursday, January 28th, 2016 by
Approximately 10% of California farms and ranches produce renewable energy. Photo: Adam Kotin

Farmers across California cheered today as state regulators upheld the system of Net Energy Metering (NEM), which allows easy and affordable renewable energy generation on farms, ranches, businesses, and residences. CalCAN has played a leadership role over the past couple of years to win this victory on behalf of California growers.

Assembly Bill 327 (2013), which required the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to review and possibly revise NEM, had raised concern about its future.

Today’s decision also upheld a net metering provision of special importance to farmers, Net Energy Metering Aggregation (NEMA), which was made possible by a bill introduced by Senator Lois Wolk (D – Davis) on which CalCAN was a lead supporter.

Since going live in mid-2014, NEMA has led to a surge in on-farm solar installations. NEMA lets farmers use a single solar array to offset energy use on multiple meters—for example, for meters on irrigation pumps in faraway fields—thereby keeping farmland for food production while cutting costs and red tape.

CalCAN has advocated before the CPUC for the past several years, demonstrating the importance of both NEM and NEMA for on-farm renewable energy growth. CalCAN provided comments to the CPUC to influence today’s important decision, and recently helped organize two pro-NEMA sign-on letters to Commissioners from 35 agriculture organizations and 23 state legislators.

CalCAN Associate Policy Director Adam Kotin says,

“This decision gives farmers a practical way to lower their carbon footprint by maximizing the on-farm renewable energy they produce. By continuing meter aggregation, the CPUC recognized agriculture’s important role in providing solutions to climate change.”

At Full Belly Farm in the Capay Valley, close to 80 percent of the packing shed energy usage is offset by solar generation. Co-owner Paul Muller says,

“With net metering, our on-farm solar alleviates stress on the grid at peak electricity hours, when our need for cooling and pumping water is greatest. Also, meter aggregation allows us to put a single array in a defensible location without taking good land out of production – it’s absolutely essential.”

Ridge Vineyards, with operations in Healdsburg and Cupertino, was an early adopter of on-farm renewable energy, installing a 66 kW solar installation in 2003. David Gates, Vice President of Vineyard Operations, says,

“Thanks to net metering, we are looking to expand our solar footprint in the near future. Our solar installation saves on energy costs and aligns with our approach to sustainable winemaking.”

Teixeira and Sons in Los Banos is preparing to hook up a solar array that they expect will meet most of the farm’s energy needs. According to farmer John Teixeira,

“Aggregating our meters using the NEMA program means we can become energy independent, which is a great financial move for our farm.”

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