California growers adapt to new diesel engine rules

By Vicky Boyd, Editor

and Chris Crawford, Web Editor

Ken Samarin says he was “tickled pink” at how easy it was to convert an old diesel engine on his irrigation pump to an electric one as part of a California effort to improve air quality.

“The hardest part about this entire program was destroying a perfectly good diesel engine,” says Samarin, who grows almonds, grapes and prunes on farms near Kerman and Firebaugh, Calif.

As part of an engine replacement incentive program, Samarin had to render his old 210-horsepower diesel engine unusable, which he did with a sledge hammer that put a 3-inch hole in the block.

Samarin’s old diesel engine is one of about 300 primarily in California’s San Joaquin Valley that the Natural Resources Conservation Service has helped replace with either electric or a cleaner burning Tier 3 diesel style, says John Siliznoff, NRCS state air quality specialist in Fresno.

In Samarin’s case, he replaced his diesel engine on his Firebaugh operation with a 100 hp electric one.

“We believe we have over 1,300 tons of [nitrogen oxides] reduced by replacing over 300 engines,” Siliznoff says.

In addition to the Ag-ICE program, which provided financial incentives to growers who replaced diesel engines with electric, the NRCS also has Environmental Quality Incentive Program cost-share funds that can help growers make the switch.

2004 rule prompted change-overs

The programs are the result of the Stationary Diesel Engine Airborne Toxic Control Measure, which the California Air Resources Board adopted in February 2004. That rule established emission standards for new stationary agricultural pumps that were more stringent than ones set by the board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for off-road engines.

It also governs stationary diesel engines that range from 50 to 175 hp and are used to pump agricultural irrigation water.

Shortly afterward, the California Public Utilities Commission approved an incentive program from Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Southern California Edison that would help fund engine conversions.

The Air Resources Board has estimated that about 6,000 stationary ag diesel engines fall into that category. Of those, 5,700 are in the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys.

In the five years prior to the rule’s adoption, the Carl Moyer Program helped provide incentives for the conversion of about 2,200 agricultural pump engines, according to the Air Resources Board. The program paid for 60 percent to 80 percent of the cost of a new engine.

The Agricultural Internal Combination Engine Conversion Incentive Program—commonly known as Ag-ICE—provides incentives if growers switch their older diesel engines that are 50 hp or greater to electric.

As part of the incentives, the utilities will run electric lines to the pumps at significantly reduced rates. In Samarin’s case, he had to wait 20 months for PG&E to extend the lines.

“We didn’t have power available—the biggest challenge was getting PG&E to upgrade my power,” Samarin says.

In exchange, growers must sign a 10-year contract with the utility saying they will run the engines on electricity and use a specific amount of power. The utility then guarantees them an electric rate, which is about 20 percent less than they typically would pay.

If growers switch to a lower-priced electrical rate program, such as going from peak to off-peak, the contract allows them to take advantage of the savings.

The Ag-ICE program expired July 31, 2007.

NRCS programs offer cost-sharing

But NRCS cost-share funds are still available to growers who qualify, Siliznoff says. The engine conversion must be new and cannot be in the works, he says.

Samarin worked through the Madera NRCS office to obtain EQIP cost-share funds and says the entire process was easier than when he applied to the Carl Moyer program for funding on an earlier pump conversion.

“NRCS made this simple for me,” Samarin says. “They walked me through the program.”

To find out if your project qualifies, contact the local NRCS office.

Rules cover all diesel engines now

The Sacramento-based California Air Resources Board implemented new emission standards in October 2007 for agricultural stationary and portable diesel engines.

The goal is for all current and new diesel engines to meet the highest-level, Tier 4, emission standards by 2016, says Dimitri Stanich, spokesman for the Air Resources Board.

The rest of the country can adhere to the federal standard or choose to meet California air quality standards, which are more stringent, Stanich says.

Registration required

No matter what tier engine you have, if you farm in California you must register all diesel engines with the local air quality management district. The registration deadline has been extended to Sept. 2, although local districts may impose earlier deadlines, according to the air resources board.

Some growers have opted to fully convert their diesel engines to electric instead of upgrading to another diesel engine. But the process could end up being expensive, depending the distance from the current electrical source to the pump.

“It could be anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 per foot of line, depending on the project,” says Katie Roman, environmental news spokeswoman for Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

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