CAMARILLO, Calif. — With 35 years in the greenhouse business, Casey Houweling said his goal no longer is just to grow the best tomatoes.

“We want to do it with the least amount of environmental impact,” he told more than 200 guests who turned out to help him launch his latest effort toward sustainability Aug. 22.

Houweling’s unveils heat, power projectHouweling, president and chief executive officer of Houweling’s Nurseries, which markets the Houweling’s Tomatoes brand, already installed water recirculation systems, a rainwater collection project and solar panels at the Camarillo facility.

Now it has the first combined heat and power greenhouse project in the U.S. that captures carbon dioxide for use in plant fertilization.

Using two GE 4.36-megawatt, two-staged turbo-charged natural gas engines and a GE-designed carbon dioxide fertilization system, the plant provides heat, power and carbon dioxide to Houweling’s 125 acres of greenhouses.

The system is fueled by natural gas and provides 8.7 megawatts of electrical power and 10.6 megawatts of thermal power (hot water) for heating the large glass greenhouses.

The system also will help the company save nearly 10,000 gallons of water each day.

The carbon dioxide in engine exhaust gases will be purified and piped into the greenhouse to fertilize the plants during the day to aid in photosynthesis.

The plant contributes electric power during peak daytime demand periods, and will provide surplus power back to the local electric utility.

Houweling is hopeful he will be able to recoup the $17 million cost of the project by selling power.

In all, he said he has spent up to $40 million to make the site environmentally friendly, but he said regulations imposed on the process made conservation efforts a challenge.

The regulatory environment “continues to devastate our economy,” Houweling said, encouraging guests to fight for regulatory change.

“In my mind, that’s the No. 1 issue today,” he said.

Guest speakers for the facility opening included Rob Oglesby, executive director of the California Energy Commission; Nick Chaset, special adviser to California Gov. Jerry Brown; and Scott Nolen, product line leader, power generation for GE Gas Engines.

Western Energy Systems, Brea, Calif., engineered and installed the cogeneration plant.

Houweling’s six greenhouses produce cocktail, strawberry, roma and beefsteak tomatoes, tomatoes-on-the-vine and orange and yellow tomatoes-on-the-vine as well as cucumbers and miniature cucumbers.

Houweling’s also has greenhouses in Delta, British Columbia.