Photo credit: Warren Weber
The San Francisco Chronicle called Warren Weber, owner of Star Route Farms, one of the five "Grand Old Men of Food" along side luminaries like Robert Mondavi and Chuck Williams. That's because Weber operates the oldest continuously certified organic farm in California. The former Berkeley English professor started in 1974 with 5 acres in Bolinas and a horse-drawn plow and now farms 40 acres in Bolinas and about 20 acres in the Coachella Valley south of Palm Springs, growing leafy greens, herbs, edible flowers, legumes and tender seasonal vegetables for local farmers' markets and better restaurants such as Delfina, Rubicon, Slanted Door, Zuni, and Chez Panisse.
So it should come as no surprise that the past president of California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), co-founder of the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), president of Marin Organic (MarinOrganic.org), and vice-chairman of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), always thought solar power was appealing, but he didn't think it was affordable.
Weber may have been a long-haired Berkeley professor in 1974, but today he's a businessman and no one should be fooled by his soft-spoken, "aw shucks" demeanor. When we first met him, he asked lots of smart questions about performance, economics, and pay-back. He wanted to understand how productive a solar power system would be in Bolinas, which gets considerable fog, he wanted to know how net metering worked (i.e., PG&E would credit him for excess power generated and returned to the utility grid), he wanted to know all about how the rebates, tax credits, and depreciation worked, and lastly he wanted to know what we thought of having to get approval from the California Coastal Commission, which regulates land use in the Coastal Zone, where Star Route Farms is located.
The easy part was addressing the business case for solar. We showed Warren and Doug Gallagher, who manages the Bolinas farm for Star Route, a detailed review of the subsidies, explained how net metering works, and showed them data that indicated we should expect to see about 13% decreased output due to fog. This was the easy part.
As for the Coastal Commission, this was a new one for Sunlight Electric. But we told Warren and Doug the same thing that we've told other people when we encounter some new challenge - "We don't know but we'll research it, talk to the key people, and if there's a way to overcome the obstacle, we'll find a way to get the job done."
Little did we realize that this would involve months of meetings, filings, and even a public hearing. Leading the charge was Gary Waren of Travalini Construction, our contractor on this project. At least a half dozen trips to the Marin County offices and untold follow-up phone calls later, and our final review was public hearing. No one showed, and we got our permit approved on the spot.
Travalini Construction installed this ground-mounted 7 kW system in just a few days, locating the array on little-used farm property immediately behind the Bolinas schoolhouse. The system incorporates 48 BP Solar 170-watt modules and two 3.8 kW SMA inverters on UniRac aluminum rails and now powers the farm's irrigation pumps and offices.
With the addition of solar power, the longest-operating organic farms is now even more sustainable. They've reduced carbon footprint by over 14,000 pounds of CO2 annually and a captured a compelling 15% return on investment. But to Warren and to Star Route Farms' employees and customers, the numbers tell only part of the story. The other part is the living commitment Warren and Star Route Farms demonstrates with over 30 years of experience that prove that responsible environmental practices make for healthy businesses in the long term.
For more information about how Sunlight Electric can help your business be more sustainable, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 866-GET-SOLAR.