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Taking a Crack at Solar Power

Ron Martella, president of Grower Direct Nut Co., shows off a new solar power system. It runs 80 percent of theprocessing plant, near Hughson. Grower Direct got a rebate from the Turlock Irrigation District to install the system.
Ron Martella, president of Grower Direct Nut Co., shows off a new solar power system. It runs 80 percent of theprocessing plant, near Hughson. Grower Direct got a rebate from the Turlock Irrigation District to install the system. Modesto Bee

The sunlight that helps walnut trees bear crops has taken on another task for two nut processors.

Solar electricity systems have been installed at Quality Nut Co. in Modesto and Grower Direct Nut. Co. near Hughson.

The systems produce power to help run the walnut-cracking equipment, the sorting belts and other parts of the operations.

"We figured that it was a good and healthy thing to do for our business," said Bruce Beard, manager of the Quality Nut plant on Yosemite Boulevard.

Both systems got up and running in time for the hectic autumn harvest of walnuts, one of Stanislaus County's top crops.

Quality Nut got a rebate from the Modesto Irrigation District under a state program that requires electrical utilities to promote solar power.

Grower Direct did the same with the Turlock Irrigation District. The rebate, $2,800 per kilowatt, cut about $1.4 million off the $3.6 million cost of the 518-kilowatt system, co-owner Kevin Chiesa said.

Both processors also got federal tax credits valued at 30 percent of the system costs.

On top of that, the systems feed power into the MID and TID grids when the solar energy exceeds the processors' needs. They get credit toward future electricity purchases.

"You want to do the right thing for the environment, but you're also hedging against future inflation in energy costs," Chiesa said.

The Grower Direct system is from SunPower Corp. of San Jose. It consists of 2,530 panels, each containing numerous cells that, when struck by sunlight, release electrons that in turn create a current.

The Quality Nut system generates 100 kilowatts from 448 panels, installed by SunWorks Power and Electric of Merced.

SunWorks owner David Morales said other processors have potential for solar installations because of their abundant roof or ground space for the panels.

Morales said the reduced use of fossil fuels will help in the fight against air pollution and climate-changing emissions. The Quality Nut system, he said, is equal to taking 30 cars off the roads.

The two nut plants are not the only places in the county where solar energy is involved in making snacks. Frito-Lay last spring installed a system that heats the cooking oil used to make SunChips at its Modesto plant.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or 578-2385.

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