Farmers seek other power supplies

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Wednesday March 28, 12:58 am Eastern Time

http://biz.yahoo.com/apf/010328/farm_scene.html

Farmers Seek Other Power Supplies

By KILEY RUSSELL, Associated Press Writer

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) -- California farmers are reconsidering the way they use and purchase power after facing months of low crop prices and soaring energy costs.In an attempt to stave off some of the worst economic pain, some growers are organizing themselves into power buying groups or investigating alternative sources of energy.

Farmers in San Diego County are forming a power buying cooperative with the help of the local farm bureau, several rural food processors are building their own power plants and some Central Valley dairymen are trying to mine manure lagoons for methane gas to generate electricity.

``We got started with this co-op last year about July or August, when electric rates went crazy in San Diego County,'' said Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego Farm Bureau.``We will bring all the buyers into one pool and then go out and negotiate for all growers at one time. Farmers have lots of experience with co-ops, the difference is we're going to be buying power as opposed to selling agricultural products,'' Larson said.

Farmers in San Diego County are eager for any salve for their power woes because a wrinkle in the state's deregulation scheme allowed that county's large-consumer power bills to soar while they remained capped in the rest of the state.

The co-op, expected to be up and running within weeks, will use the combined purchasing power of hundreds of farmers to buy gas and electricity at discounted rates, but won't invest in power plants, pipelines or transmission lines.

The billing details have yet to be worked out, and Larson and his staff are preparing for power contract negotiations by trying to find out just how much energy the county's farmers use every month. Although no one knows exactly how much is being consumed, the biggest demand for power right now is coming from greenhouse operators using natural gas and farmers running irrigation and well pumps.

``Normally, this time of year it would be nice to put some water on the trees,'' said Al Stehly, who manages about 800 acres of avocados and citrus in the northern part of the county.

But Stehly's annual electric bill to run water pumps rose from $10,000 to about $40,000 on just one 40-acre grove -- he's paying about 29 cents per kilowatt hour. With that kind of bill, he's going to wait to see if he'll get lucky with a late-season rainstorm or a break in the electricity crisis before dipping into his wells.

Bob Echter, chairman of the fledgling farmers power cooperative, owns a flower farm near Encinitas. In December, he spent $23,000 on roughly the same amount of electricity that cost him $8,600 the previous December.``This could flatten our business. We're all trying to grow our commodities and not necessarily be experts in power. We're trying to make decisions on energy that have become enormously important but we don't have time to research the market,'' Echter said.

-- Swissrose (cellier3@mindspring.com), March 28, 2001

Answers

At 29 a kWh, you can just about break even with solar in 5 years.
And not be tied to the troubled grid.

-- (perry@ofuzzy1.com), March 28, 2001.

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