Wawona Packing Co. has flicked the on switch for a new solar power system that meets the bulk of electricity needs at its Cutler, Calif., packing facility.

Novato, Calif.-based SPG Solar provided the 934-kilowatt, DC ground-mounted system, which sits on five acres adjacent to the site.

It came online Dec. 30.

“In perfect conditions it will handle about 70% of our operation, both packing and cold storage,” said Brent Smittcamp, president of Wawona Packing.

“We’re always looking to lower our carbon footprint,” he said. “The impetus was to see what we could do to hit our long-term and short-term sustainability targets. That’s important for the company and the industry.

“We’re a big player in the organic arena. Sustainability and organic go hand in hand.”

After seven years the solar installation will have paid for itself, Smittcamp said.

The system features more than 3,300 solar panels mounted on a SPG Solar SunSeeker single-axis tracker, and is expected to generate more than 1.8 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually.

That equals the electricity used by 164 average homes annually, according to SPG Solar.

Smittcamp said he became familiar with SPG Solar in part through their previous work with other packers and shippers, among them Caruthers, Calif.-based Campos Bros. Farms.

“This project was a great opportunity for us to leverage our engineering skills by utilizing our tracking system to capitalize on the available land space, and design a system around an access road to maintain the shipping logistics of the company’s core business,” Chris Robine, SPG Solar chief executive officer, said in a news release.

Wawona Packing farms more than 6,500 acres and packs 5 million-plus cartons annually.

Hein joins staff

Wawona Packing taps solar energyJohn Hein has taken a sales position at Wawona Packing.

Hein stepped down from Trinity Fruit Sales Co., Fresno, Calif., where he’d worked in sales since 2008, in late January.

Hein will manage an expanding Wawona commodity base that now includes kiwifruit, pears, Asian pears and cherries. He has 30 years of produce experience.