Kearney goes solar
An 80-panel solar array is being installed at the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center to provide clean, green energy to the F. Gordon Mitchell Postharvest Laboratory, the sensory laboratory and a plant and sample handling lab. Initially, the array will generate 22.4 kilowatts of electricity per hour, a supply expected to cut the center's energy expenditures by $5,400 per year.
"We have a significant amount of electrically intensive equipment in the post harvest laboratory," said Robert Ray, superintendent of the physical plant at Kearney and coordinator of the project. "The laboratory includes a washer-waxer, fruit sizer, reach-in refrigeration boxes and sub-zero refrigeration units, among other equipment. The three facilities consume about 260,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year."
Development of the solar farm is being supported by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources with a $100,000 allocation. Installation of the ground-mounted panels by JKB Energy of Turlock is expected to begin in early May.
"This is our first step toward developing renewable energy sources at the research and extension centers," said Luzanne Martin, a project manager for the nine-center system that stretches from Desert Research and Extension Center, near the border with Mexico, to the Intermountain Research and Extension Center, just south of Oregon. "We hope it will be a model project. When we see the savings we will try to look for renewable-energy options at our other centers and expand the array at Kearney."
Kearney facility and field staff are preparing a 140-by-25-foot area north of the post harvest laboratory and east of the sensory lab by leveling the land, pulling out alfalfa and installing underground conduits.
Ray said the solar farm will be expanded when funds become available to generate 78 kilowatts per hour, the maximum offset for the post harvest meter based on limits set by the Public Utilities Commission. In the future, solar arrays could also be built to provide the electrical needs of other Kearney facilities.