Farms and Fuel

Posted on Tuesday, March 29th, 2011 by Renata Brillinger

The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service recently released the results of its first nationwide survey on renewable energy practices on America’s farms and ranches. The On-Farm Renewable Energy Production Survey reported that California leads the country with almost 25% of the total farms producing renewable power (1,956 of 8,569 total operations). The most predominant technology (92%) was solar photovoltaics and thermal solar, followed by wind, with a small number of methane digesters. Unsurprisingly, farmers in nearly every state reported savings on their utility bills.

California has already established itself as a leader in green technology, and just today the state legislature  approved a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) being that raises the bar on the amount of renewable energy required in our electricity mix to 33% by 2020. The USDA survey demonstrates that farms and ranches can help achieve this goal.

Senator Lois Wolk (D-Solano) has introduced legislation that will help us get there by removing barriers to on-farm renewable power production. The Renewable Energy Equity Act (SB 489) opens California’s Net Energy Metering Program to all eligible forms of renewable energy. It will make it easier and more economically feasible for some agriculture businesses to convert waste products such as orchard prunings and shells from nut trees into biogas that generates electricity.

Russ Lester, owner of Dixon Ridge Farms, is an organic walnut grower and processor of most of California’s organic walnuts. A few years ago, he installed a biogasifier that burns walnut hulls and produces electricity to run the walnut dyers. Russ installed this system without the benefit of net metering which, if SB 489 passes, would remove some of the bureaucratic barriers to hooking up systems like his to the grid and maximizing the production of renewable energy, as well as earning money if these operations produce more than they can use.

Dixon Ridge Farms biogasifier

CalCAN is a sponsor of SB 489, so please contact us if you’d like to know how to support the bill. And stay tuned for more information.

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