Growmark Goes Green, Adding Solar Panels at Distribution Center to Reduce Costs

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As more and more U.S. farmers are adding a crop of renewable energy to their fields, one of the nation’s top agriculture cooperatives is following suit.

Growmark Inc. is installing a 1,500-panel, 525-kilowatt solar array at its Alpha, Illinois distribution center representatives say will save the company money and help achieve its sustainability goals.

Headquartered in Bloomington, the company sells fuel, seed, equipment and other products and services to farmers and others in more than 40 U.S. states and Ontario, Canada.

“We had a desire to do something green,” said Growmark Director of Logistics Tracy Mack. “I don’t think we would pay more to do that, but we can save money and become more efficient. So it’s kind of a joint decision in that we’re doing the right thing for the environment but also saving some money on our electrical bill.”

The company partnered with StraightUp Solar, the solar developer headquartered in St. Louis with a regional office in Bloomington, to install the array at the Alpha facility.

This isn’t the first time the company has pursued adding renewable energy sources to its facilities. At $5 per watt, solar panels were too expensive in 2010, said Mack. Then when prices dropped, Growmark was unable to secure benefits like state renewable energy credits and dropped the project.

“Then StraightUp Solar came to us about six months ago and they had an investment bank partner that owns the solar array,” Mack said. “So Growmark’s investment is only in a fence and some seed to do the underlayment.”

Growmark had also considered adding wind energy but found varying tower maintenance costs made it difficult to project the company’s return on investment.

Under the agreement, Growmark will pay a lower electric rate than its previous utility rate. With utility rates on the rise over the last few years, the project should save the company more money over its 25-year lifespan, said Mack.

Mack said the array will save the company between $5,600-5,900 annually on electricity. The project is expected to be completed within the next few weeks.

Mack said solar power is right in line with other farming activities the company supports.

“Farmers like to be efficient also, so to the extent that it’s efficient I think it makes good sense…[solar panels] can take up some space, but it’s not a large amount of space relative to what they do.”

It also aligns with Growmark’s Endure program, a sustainability initiative promoting environmentally and fiscally responsible practices.

Mack said the company may consider adding solar panels to some of its grain and other facilities in the future.