Solar power is a bright spot in California’s economy, especially in the Central Valley. Our state has just celebrated a tremendous milestone – 10 gigawatts of solar energy deployed – more solar than the United Kingdom, France or Spain, and enough power for nearly 2.6 million California homes.
Solar also helps power our economy and supports local jobs. Nearly $12 billion was invested in California solar projects in 2014, and solar employs over 54,000 Californians – including over 5,600 solar workers from Sacramento to Bakersfield.
What’s more, the cost of solar is falling, having dropped 50 percent over the past few years, and is now powering nearly every facet of our economy.
Farms, water districts, schools, hospitals, small businesses and homeowners throughout the Valley and state have enthusiastically embraced solar as a way to control rising energy costs – especially in inland regions hit hard with high electrical bills during hot summer months. Farmers are using solar to power their irrigation systems, saving on their energy bills and making agriculture more economically sustainable. The Clovis Unified School District installed nearly 6 megawatts of solar, the largest solar school project in the Central Valley, and is saving the district approximately $2.4 million annually.
At Medeiros & Son Dairy, we constantly evaluate and assess our farming operation to ensure it is working as efficiently as possible. We’re extremely focused on improving the sustainability of our resources across the entire farm by continuously searching for projects that meet our three pillars of sustainability – environmental, economical and social.
That is why we recently installed solar at our farm, as it has become a crucial tool that delivers tremendous benefits – helping us to reduce our energy costs and improve our triple bottom line. Our power bills can run as high as $110,000 a month. The 1.1-megawatt CalCom Solar / NEXTracker solar array will offset approximately 82 percent of our total electric use, and we figure the $2 million system will pay for itself in roughly five years. With that much power coming from our own property, we can ensure the longevity of our family farm.
The four-year drought has challenged the entire agriculture industry in California. At Medeiros & Son Dairy, we fallowed 60 percent of the 1,400 acres on our farm because of the drought. With a lower amount of home-grown feed for the cows, we have to purchase crops from the surrounding area; this solar project will help offset those higher costs and keep the dairy running.
Solar also has helped support jobs in our community. We at CalCom Solar are proud of our role in spurring job growth in the Central Valley. And we’re growing our workforce every day. We employ in our office and on our projects over 120 employees who are earning a competitive salary. In the last 12 months, we have purchased 19 vehicles and have increased our salaried payroll by over 40 jobs.
Yet at this critical juncture – when a growing industry that supports jobs is poised to become mainstream across the state and country – solar’s phenomenal success may soon be significantly slowed. This is because the solar investment tax credit, adopted by Congress in 2005, is about to expire. This tax credit, which cuts the cost of solar by 30 percent for homeowners and businesses, expires on Dec. 31, 2016. That is, unless we raise our voices and persuade our elected representatives in Congress to act now.
There is urgency to renewing the credit now. Due to the uncertainty caused by the pending expiration of the tax credit, businesses across the state are already adjusting their plans for project development in 2017. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the agriculture sector, where the long lead times for solar projects means 2016 is right around the corner.
We shouldn’t risk a significant slowdown of solar energy by letting the tax credit expire. We should push for an extension of the investment tax credit so that solar continues to flourish and becomes an increasingly mainstream resource in our state’s energy portfolio.
Let’s not send our solar economy back in time.
Brian Medeiros is vice president of Medeiros & Son Dairy in Hanford. Nic Stover is CEO of CalCom Solar of Visalia.