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With potential energy savings in the agricultural sector approaching $1 billion annually, it is understandable that California nut growers would be seeking their fair share.

According to American Council for Energy Efficiency, that $1 billion figure is an extremely conservative estimate with the largest potential savings percentage found in the motor system—specifically irrigation pumping.

Both of the major utility companies serving California farmers continue to offer a number of energy efficiency programs and incentives designed to help save energy costs or provide credits. In addition, USDA Rural Development offers grants for up to 25 percent of the cost of energy efficiency projects. These USDA grants are competitive and producers must have an energy audit by a certified auditor prior to applying.

One of the Central Valley nut growing families—the Pitigliano family of Pixley,  farms almonds and pistachios in the region served by Southern California Edison and estimates that 90 percent of their energy expenditure is incurred pumping irrigation water.

“If you are willing to adjust, there are significant savings with these programs,” said Josh  Pitigliano. By making some operational changes, the Pitigliano family was able to tap into the Time of Use rates which are calculated on time of day, day of the week and the season. One of their new water use strategies involves pumping water from deep wells into a reservoir during off-peak hours and then using booster pumps to move the water to sprinkler and drip systems. Even with the cost of building the reservoir, they will save money in pumping costs when the incentives are in place, Pitigliano said.

Additional savings for the Pitiglianos were found by synchronizing demand response with TOU schedules. The Demand Response program provides customers with bill credit for relieving stress on the grid by reducing energy use during peak demand hours which can maximize savings with the TOU rates.

Another program, the Agricultural and Pumping Interruptible program allows Edison to temporarily disrupt electric service to pumps during peak demand in exchange for bill credit. The program is available to agriculture customers with at least 50 horsepower of connected load. To participate, a customer must already be served under an Agricultural and Pumping Rate Schedule which includes a TOU program.

The service interruptions are limited and automated. If SCE is notified by the California Independent System Operator of the need to reduce energy demand, SCE will send a signal to the load control device installed in a customer’s pumping equipment which will automatically turn off the total load served for the entire duration of the interruption.

“We found a 25-30 percent savings with this program last year and there were only a few instances where we lost power, but we were able to manage around them and suffered no crop damage,” Pitigliano said.

SCE notes that customers will need to perform a manual reset of the main circuit breaker or pump controller after each interruption. The interruption can occur at any time. Interruptions are limited to six hours, 25 per year with a total of 150 hours per calendar year. Customers may request notifications on their phone or email.  The program is offered on a one-year contract with changes or cancellations possible during the month of November.

Pitiglianos also participate in the pump testing services offered by SCE.

“With groundwater levels fluctuating, it is important that we know the efficiency of our pumps. We lose efficiency if the pump is working at a different level than originally set,” Josh Pitigliano said. If the pump is operating at less than 65-70 percent efficiency, SCE gives a portion of the repair bill to bring it back to that level, he added “They don’t want us to waste energy.”

“We also realize that these programs are funded by bills paid in previous years so we try to use them as much as possible,” he said.

To ensure efficiency in irrigation, pump testing services are available from SCE. This service can identify components of a pumping and irrigation system that, if repaired or upgraded can save on energy consumption. Pitiglianos took advantage of this service and the recommendation to install variable frequency drives on their pumps to save more energy and allow for a smooth transition to TOU.

In 2015, $7.3 million of PG&E incentives supported energy saving investments by 768 agricultural customers. According to PG&E spokeswoman Ari Vanrenen those  projects will save them an estimated $8.2 million per year in energy bills.

One of Pacific Gas and Electric’s main energy savings programs for agriculture customers is the Advanced Pumping Efficiency Program. This incentive program is intended to improve overall pumping efficiency and encourage energy conservation. The utility is funding APEP through 2017 using Public Purpose Programs Funds with the California Public Utilities Commission. The program is administered by the Center for Irrigation Technology at Fresno State.

 

The Advanced Pumping Efficiency Program (APEP) is an educational and incentive program intended to improve overall pumping efficiency and encourage energy conservation in California. Since the program started in 2002, CIT has assisted with more than 2,167 pump retrofit or repair rebates and about $12, million in incentive rebates for those projects. As a result of the projects, more than 373,000 therms were saved annually. CIT has also subsidized 35,404 pump efficiency tests and hosted nearly 200 education seminars for agriculture customers.

Cash incentives, energy surveys and payment options are available to agriculture customers through Edison as part of the California Solar Initiative.

Solar systems, when installed in connection with an agriculture well or pump irrigation system is state sales tax fund exempt (-6.5 percent) and qualifies for Sec 179 federal tax deductions ($25K), which results in energy savings.  PG&E and SCE also offer pump energy efficiency rebates along with federal and state solar energy incentives during the retrofit process.

One of the agribusiness companies taking advantage of the energy savings with solar is the Limoneira Company in Santa Paula. This citrus company installed a 1 megawatt solar facility to power its citrus processing plants.  They report the cost per kilowatt is fixed for the next 20 years.

PG&E does not have any specific solar programs for agriculture, but Vanrenen reports that they support and assist all customers in solar endeavors including connencting solar systems to the energy grid.

 

By:  Cecilia Parsons