Harvesting the Sun’s Power
Mar 03, 2014
Brothers Mike and Manuel Monteiro expand the output at their California dairy to include a new crop – energy.
With little more than hope for a better future, Manuel Rodriguez Monteiro immigrated to the United States in 1916 at the age of 15. By 1930, he had saved enough of his wages from milking cows to buy 25 of his own cows. If he could only see his grandsons’ dairy today.
"I know he’d be proud," says Mike Monteiro, who with his brother Manuel, operates Lakeside Dairy south of Hanford, Calif. "He probably wouldn’t believe his eyes either."
Solar panels generate enough energy to offset 75% of the utility power usage at Mike (left) and Manuel Monteiro’s California dairy. The dairy milks about 3,450 cows. (Photo: DairyCares)
That’s because the Monteiro brothers have expanded the farm beyond the traditional raising of animals and growing of corn, wheat and alfalfa to include the harvesting of a new crop – energy.
"We’re constantly looking for ways to be sustainable," Mike says. "When it came to energy sustainability, we just looked to the sky."
In 2011, Novato, Calif.-based SPG Solar completed work on an 891-kilowatt solar power system on the west side of the family dairy farm, where 3,240 ground-mounted solar panels track the sun each day as it moves across the Central Valley sky.
"We’ll generate over 1.7-megawatt hours a year," says Manuel Monteiro. "That’s enough to offset 75 percent of our dairy’s utility power usage, which is a tremendous savings for us and the planet."
On sunny days, the solar harvest is so good that the dairy’s energy meter actually runs backwards, feeding energy generated on the farm into the power company’s grid for use by other customers.
The Monteiros’ solar project reduces their reliance on electricity produced from fossil fuels so much that it’s estimated the project will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1,100 tons each year – the equivalent of removing 238 cars from the roadway.
Mike Monteiro is optimistic other dairies will be powering up via sunshine soon: "Dairy farmers have always been innovators, looking to the future for new tools to improve the quality of care for their cows and the environment. With solar power as a viable option, we’re living in the future today."
Learn more about the sustainability efforts of other California dairies at www.DairyCares.com.