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California dairy farm gets closer to net-zero energy with installation of 7,840 solar panels

Mary Ellen Shoup

By Mary Ellen Shoup+

22-Sep-2016
Last updated on 26-Sep-2016 at 11:17 GMT2016-09-26T11:17:31Z

The two-megawatt solar array will power eight acres of land of Joseph Gallo Farms and eliminate an estimated 27,500 metric tons of CO2 emissions over the next 20 years.©iStock/Catalin205
The two-megawatt solar array will power eight acres of land of Joseph Gallo Farms and eliminate an estimated 27,500 metric tons of CO2 emissions over the next 20 years.©iStock/Catalin205

Joseph Gallo Farms, maker of Joseph Farms Cheese, has unveiled a new two megawatt (MW) solar array, the largest privately owned system installed on a California dairy, as part of its mission to becoming a net zero energy dairy farm.

The solar panels, which cost the dairy farm approximately $4m, are part of its larger goal of to reducing its CO2 emissions and reliance on fossil fuels over the next 20 years.

“We were thinking about solar technology for as long as I could remember, but we were waiting for the right partner,” Peter Gallo said.

 And for Joseph Gallo Farms, that partner was solar provider SolarCity.

"This project aligns with the work we've been doing for 13 years to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and transition to green, renewable energy that is generated right here on our farm," Gallo added.

By harvesting the sun's power on 7,840 solar panels across eight acres, the fixed-array system provides on-site renewable energy that will significantly reduce its need for electricity from the local utility and avoid an estimated 27,500 metric tons of CO2 emissions over the next 20 years.

‘Cow power’

In addition to the new solar array, Joseph Gallo Farms also operates one of the largest and longest-running methane digesters in California, which captures biogas from cow manure and then uses the biogas to fuel generators to produce energy. The electricity produced by this renewable "cow power" is used on-site and significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions and decreases the farm's dependence on fossil fuels.

"Our new solar array meets about half of our energy needs for our dairy and farming operations," Gallo said. "Partnered with our existing methane digester, we're moving closer to becoming a net-zero energy dairy farm and cheese plant, continuing a long tradition of pioneering renewable energy deployment and sustainability practices."

The deployment of the two MW solar array helps carry out Governor Jerry Brown's renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals and initiatives for the state of California, including: AB 32 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, SB 32 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and SB 350 to increase renewable energy generation to 50% by 2030.

Gallo's vision of complete sustainability has transitioned from a single project to an overall program, and while the solar array is the latest step, there will be more to come, the company said.

"We're always looking to the future to improve our environmental performance on the farm and at the cheese plant,” Gallo said. 

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