solar panels near Walker Brothers' potato storage shed

Photo courtesy of Gold Dust Potato Processors/Walker Brothers

The family owned Gold Dust Potato Processors and Walker Brothers of Malin, Ore., have always harnessed the sun to help grow their annual potato crops.

Now they're tapping the sun to help power their potato washing and packing shed, water pumps and storage sheds.

Altogether, they have six photovoltaic installations that total 222 kilowatts, says Lexi Crawford, manager of Gold Dust Potato Processors, Inc./Walker Brothers.

Of those, four 10-kw units will power pumps.

The two larger ones—84 kw and 98 kw—will produce electricity for potato storage sheds and the potato washing/packing shed.

The solar installations are just the latest in a long line of steps the operations have taken to become more environmentally friendly, she says.

The National Potato Council honored them last year with an environmental stewardship award.

Bill Walker, owner of the operations, had contemplated solar for several years, but it never penciled out, Crawford says.

She credits RS Energy, Obsidian Financial and the new Oregon Feed-In Tariff program for making it economicallly feasible.

"RS Energy came knocking on doors, asking people if they wanted to be included in this initiative," she says. "The FIT made it possible. The way it was set up, it gave us a down payment and the energy we generate makes the monthly payments."

The pilot Feed-In Tariff program, passed last year by the Oregon Legislature, guarantees prices for electricity generated by participating projects.

The projects have to be less than 100 kw each. Depending on the project's location within Oregon, owners are guaranteed between 55 and 65 cents per kWh for 15 years.

RS Energy of Tualatin, Ore., secured about 700 kw of the pilot capacity for its clients.

In other countries that pioneered FIT, such as Germany, users feed the electricity they produce into the grid and receive credit for their production, according to Solar Oregon.

Oregon's program differs slightly in that generators consume the power onsite, offsetting their traditional consumption. They still receive credit for their electricity production.

In the case of Gold Dust Potato Processors, Inc./Walker Brothers, the solar systems account for about 90 percent of the operations' electricity usage.