Valley Voices

Why zero net energy farms can be the next salvo in California’s climate change fight

John Diener is the president and CEO of Red Rock Ranch in Five Points
John Diener is the president and CEO of Red Rock Ranch in Five Points Contributed

Recent extreme weather events – drought, fires, storms, and mudslides – are a stark reminder of the effects climate change already has on California. They beckon us to respond with smart solutions.

For those of us living and working in the Valley, fully adopting renewable energy will not only decrease greenhouse gas emissions but also drastically improve the air we breathe.

California’s agricultural industry, a bedrock of our economy, is uniquely poised to slash emissions by using renewable energy to power farms.

As a Valley farmer and the mayor of Huron, respectively, we have a vested interest in the economic prosperity and health of the rural communities we serve. Renewable energy meets those goals by cutting production costs, eliminating fossil fuel pollution, and creating quality, long-term jobs. We’ve partnered to bring these renewable energy benefits to our community.

There is a vast, untapped source of energy and fuel that many farmers don’t utilize. For example, green waste, which is abundant and otherwise goes unused, can be repurposed to create biodiesel and thermal energy.

At Red Rock Ranch, we’ve harnessed green waste and other local sources of renewable energy to power our farm and do our part to end dependence on expensive fossil fuels. In partnership with Biodico, we produce our own biodiesel to power our tractors.

We also have installed LED lighting, solar panels and thermal energy technology that, together with our biodiesel operation, have earned Red Rock Ranch the distinct title of the world’s first and only zero net energy farm. That means the total amount of energy the farm uses annually equals the amount of renewable energy it creates on-site.

What attracted us the most to renewable energy was the opportunity for significant cost savings. The benefits of investing in long-term renewable energy produced locally outweigh the alternative: purchasing imported fuel and energy.

Government agencies like the California Energy Commission also provide grants to help farmers and businesses upgrade to renewable energy. None of this cutting-edge technology would have been possible without policies California has adopted that make us a global clean-energy innovator, most notably the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

Thanks to the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which incentivizes production of low-carbon fuel like the biodiesel made at Red Rock Ranch, we save even more.

Revamping a farm to leverage available resources is now just a mouse-click away. Using Red Rock Ranch as a model, Biodico has launched an online program to help farmers identify ways to save energy, through irrigation practices, and generate renewable energy on-site such as with biomass or solar power.

Farmers all across the country – and in other countries too – can replicate our success using the easy-to- deploy app. California produces two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts, and around one-quarter of our state’s agricultural production is exported abroad –our blueprint could transform agriculture nationwide and globally.

In California alone, our model could be replicated 20,000 times on similar lands.

Rural communities also benefit from clean energy, as it generates stable, well-paying jobs.

Choosing renewable energy allows farmers to invest in communities by hiring and training local workers to produce biodiesel. Clean-energy jobs, like the Biodico jobs at Red Rock Ranch, overall pay higher average wages and provide workers with benefits other industries don’t.

These jobs allow for small towns to flourish by providing working-class communities like Huron with jobs, putting families on the path to financial stability. Red Rock Ranch is providing 300 direct and indirect local jobs with an even broader ripple effect.

The Valley is overburdened by some of the country’s worst air pollution. Harnessing abundant renewable energy is an accessible and cost-effective solution to ensure economic growth and protect the health of the air and our communities.

In California and worldwide, farmers, business leaders, and elected officials can create partnerships like ours to step up their role in fighting air pollution and climate change.

John Diener is the president and CEO of Red Rock Ranch in Five Points and Rey León is the mayor of Huron. Connect with Diener at JEDfivepoints@gmail.com and Leon at rey.c.leon@gmail.com.

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