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Dairyman brings new technology to family farm

As third-generation dairy farmer and cheesemaker Peter Gallo looked proudly at his family farm’s newly installed solar array in Atwater, he reflected on the vision of his father and grandfather before him.

“Sustainable farming has been a core value in our family starting with my grandfather, Joseph Gallo,” said Gallo, supply chain vice president at Joseph Gallo Farms. “We’ve envisioned integrating solar energy on the farm for as long as I can remember, and today is a step towards greater sustainability.

“I’m proud of my father and grandfather’s legacy of stewardship, but I’m also proud to say that this is just the beginning,” continued Gallo.

The 2 megawatt fixed-array system, which cost about $4 million and was completed in September of last year, spans across 7,840 solar panels and eight acres at the dairy farm.

“The array converts radiation from the sunlight into electricity,” explained Scott Peattie, senior project development manager at SolarCity. “That is then fed through wiring into string inverters all throughout the array and that electricity is combined and it outputs into two meters that are fed into the grid. The entire farm can benefit from the power generated from this array.”

By providing on-site renewable energy to power mainly pumps and motors, the system will help reduce the company’s reliance on local utility providers and save an estimated 27,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next 20 years.

This reduction in greenhouse gas emissions equates roughly to planting more than 700,000 trees or removing nearly 6,000 cars from the road over the next two decades. That amount of energy produced could power 282 average-sized homes a year.

“This project aligns with the work we’ve been doing for 13 years to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and transition to green, renewable energy that is generated right here on our farm,” said Gallo.

Gallo also said that the new solar array will help the dairy farm contribute to the success of Gov. Jerry Brown’s goals and initiatives to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase renewable energy production by 2030.

“I think that this is going to be an important step to help California achieve those goals and it’s a good fit for us,” said Gallo. “In California, a dairy company needs to be both sustainable in terms of economics, but also environmentally.”

Gallo noted that the dairy farm likes to be on “the cutting edge” of sustainable farming practices in California, a point that is proven by not only the new solar array, but with the largest and longest-running methane digesters in California. The system captures biogas from cow manure in order to fuel generators and produce energy.

“Our new solar array meets about half of our energy needs for our dairy and farming operations,” said Gallo. “Partnered with our existing methane digester, we’re moving closer to becoming a net-zero energy dairy farm and cheese plant, continuing a long tradition of pioneering renewable energy deployment and sustainability practices.”

To carry out the three-month installation job, Joseph Gallo Farms enlisted the help of SolarCity, which is the nation’s largest solar power provider.

“Joseph Gallo Farms has long been a leader in sustainable dairy farming and cheesemaking, especially when it comes to producing and utilizing renewable, green energy,” said Erik Fogelberg, SolarCity’s Senior Vice President of Commercial PV and Storage Solutions. “We are proud to help further expand that capability and meet their environmental goals, all while helping them save on their energy costs.”

With the installation of the solar array, Gallo said his family’s cheesemaking company is now one step closer to becoming a net-zero energy dairy farm.

“Environmental stewardship has been a core principle of our company since my grandfather started and it’s been a legacy that my father has continued. We’re always looking to the future to improve our environmental performance on the farm and at the cheese plant,” said Gallo. “It’s our family’s commitment to our customers, neighbors and planet.”