The California Energy Commission at its meeting on Oct. 14 approved a $5.4-million grant to install a new solar power plant at a large cheese-production factory in Tulare. The plant is expected to reduce the factory's natural gas output and greenhouse gas emissions, the CEC said in its grant proposal.

Saputo Cheese will use plastic poles with mirrors at their tops to direct sunlight onto outdoor water beds, which will create steam for power production, according to Hyperlight Energy, a renewable-energy product company in San Diego that will be installing the solar power plant system at Saputo's factory.

Along with reducing GHG emissions, the solar plant could help minimize the impacts of carbon leakage from the state, which occurs when an industrial operation moves its production facility out of state to a less regulated region (see CEM No. 1547).

At a CEC meeting earlier this year, commissioners heard concerns about carbon leakage from the state's tomato production industry. Campbell Soup told the commission that if international GHG regulations are not developed, California producers are likely to be at a competitive disadvantage, leading to producers moving elsewhere.

Processing of milk into dairy products is an energy-intensive process requiring large amounts of heat, typically provided by burning natural gas, the CEC said in its grant request. Using solar-thermal energy could significantly reduce natural gas consumption and GHG emissions at dairy production facilities; however, not many solar-thermal energy systems have been successfully installed at the state's dairy facilities, due to high upfront capital costs and challenging integration requirements, the CEC said.

After installing the solar plant, the Saputo Cheese project team will compare how much natural gas the factory used before installation as opposed to after. The team has also been directed to share knowledge about its results and installation process with other market segments in California.

The award is part of the CEC's Food Production Investment Program, which provides funding to food producers to replace their high-energy-consuming equipment and systems with more efficient equipment and systems. The program was established in 2018 and has provided about $44 million to 21 recipients in 10 counties across the state. California's food processing industry is valued at about $82 billion, according to the California League of Food Producers.

At the meeting, the CEC also approved the following items:

  • About $3.5 million to Five Points Pipeline to construct a new dairy biogas processing facility that will clean biomethane from five dairy digesters near Fresno County.
  • About $2 million to Enel X North America for new manufacturing tools and equipment for producing electric-vehicle equipment in-state.

A loan of about $840,000 to the City of Port Hueneme for lighting-improvement measures and three solar-photovoltaic systems. The project is estimated to save the city about 376,000 kWh of electricity and about $55,000 per year.

Staff Writer

David Krause is an energy reporter covering the California Energy Commission and Air Resources Board. He writes about transportation, climate change, utilities, and wildfires. He has an MFA in Writing, an MA in English, and a BS in Civil Engineering.