Ag at Large: Agriculture Counties Host Sunshine, Power

With its wide open spaces, California’s next big produce may be solar. (CR file photo)

California’s wide open spaces, where billions of dollars of agricultural crops grow every year, might be destined to produce on an even larger scale another essential commodity – power.  Some of the seeds have already been sewn.

Hundreds of acres of solar panels are at work now in the most sun drenched parts of the state, but power enthusiasts and experts say that is only the beginning.  They expect thousands of acres more to be occupied by the quiet presence of photovoltaic solar panels – the large-scale cousins of those on your neighbor’s roof.

Some predict that nearly all of California’s need for electrical power will be supplied from vast fields of solar panels quietly turning the sun’s energy into everyday useful electrical power.  The conversion from hydroelectric sources is viewed by some as one of the most dramatic and exciting events since horses were replaced by gasoline engines.

Average homeowners, city dwellers and society in general may hardly notice as the conversion occurs, but for farmers occupying California’s sunniest valleys, the production of power instead of (or in addition to) food and fiber crops will be dramatic.  Income from their solar fields might exceed that of crops they have grown, and overhead costs should decline sharply as costs for equipment and manpower drop.

While the state’s Central Valley, or San Joaquin,  from Sacramento through Bakersfield flashes as a major production area, California is blessed with numerous valleys where the sun reigns supreme except for a few foggy or rainy days.  Consider a few of its largest: Sacramento, Salinas, Coachella, Imperial, and Death.  Several other smaller valleys are just as qualified as power sources, even the Santa Clara, partially renamed Silicon.

Long ago, drained of their political strength, California’s valleys, still lightly populated, might be expected to assume a new and commanding presence, a kind of power complex. Still, their political influence is defined by population, and solar panels don’t foretell vast increases in the number of voters.

Some who have studied our rapid acceptance of new alternate power sources have faced some of the negative factors.  Most of the photovoltaic panels now installed have been produced in China, not always a reliable trading partner.  The panels require cleaning and occasional replacement, and their life expectancy is only about a dozen years.  When they have come to the end of their productive lives they need to be disposed of, and disposal of solids has become a troublesome matter.

Farm settings have become notoriously established as theft centers. Since solar panels require open space they might join the list of tractors, mowers, harvesters, sprayers and tools as targets for nighttime thieves.  Always imaginative the thieves might even find a way to tap the power sources for their own benefit.  They seem to off load at a discount everything else they steal.

The details will be resolved, just as sure as the sun shines.  And we can expect the sun to continue to shine, especially in California’s many valleys, its many food-producing venues. And we can expect farmers to continue producing, either food, power or something else.

Now might be a good time to invest in farm property located in one of California’s sunny valleys.  As usual with such transactions it will be wise to avoid any shady deals.