Sustainability - "Going Green" at UDA
For 51 years, United Dairymen of Arizona (UDA) farm families have shown responsibility for the earth and a passion for dairy. In order for a dairy to thrive, the land and environment must be taken care of. Dairy families have been "Going Green" since before the term was coined, so it only makes sense that the largest Dairy Cooperative in the state would follow in its member's footsteps.
Since 2008, UDA has been effectively making improvements on its carbon footprint. Becoming more environmentally friendly has proven to be good for the planet and the bottom line, which is always a factor in a tough economy. Using energy efficient lighting and motion controlled sensors have contributed to an over $200,000 savings on energy costs in 2008. The addition of the combustion catalyst system (CCS) in UDA's milk tankers decreased fuel consumption, decreased exhaust gases and increased engine life. UDA has saved over $400,000 since introducing CCS in 2008.
The first phase of a solar dairy farm project was completed in the spring of 2011 on Zimmerman Dairy. After almost two years in the making, the Queen Creek dairy is the first and only in the U.S. of its kind. The Zimmerman's have seen their electricity bill decrease by thousands of dollars a month and feel great knowing they are more environmentally friendly.
UDA also pledged to participate in responsible building practices. All building improvements must adhere to at least one of three standards: longevity, recyclables and reducing carbon footprint. Updates like acid brick to the floors and Arcoplast to the walls and ceilings in the dairy plant will meet UDA's 15 year longevity standard and are made from natural or recycled materials.
Arizona's dairy farm families and UDA strive to take care of the land they live and work on. Improvements that are made now will all be beneficial in securing a healthy future for the next generation.
Zimmerman Dairy Solar Project:
How did an ocean of solar panels come to live at Bill and Vicky Zimmerman's dairy in Queen Creek? Victor Orlowski, of PEDI LLC, raised the possibility of tapping into various funding sources for renewable energy projects on UDA dairies. The goal was to do one dairy project, see it through all the hoops and over all the hurdles, so that the process would be simpler for other UDA members to implement for similar projects on their operations. Zimmerman Dairy was selected as a pilot project for three reasons: first, the dairy was located in a designated rural area (a requirement for USDA funds), second, sufficient land was available for placement of the solar panels, and third, the Zimmermans were willing to be guinea pigs. "We had been thinking about taking steps to be more 'green' for a long time" said Vicky. "When we first looked at this project, with a total cost of $2.8 million, it was pretty overwhelming." However, the funding Orlowski was able to coordinate dropped that cost to about $600,000 for Phase I.
Bill and Vicky Zimmerman with their "check" - mounted on a fully-functioning 25-year-old photovoltaic solar panel.
In essence, the dairy swapped mounting, unpredictable utility costs for consistent debt service for ten years. That fee not only remains constant - it is just 25% of the current monthly electric bill. After ten years, Zimmerman's will have no debt service and no electric bill. The $7000 average monthly electricity bill with a peak of $12,000 during the summer) is replaced with a fixed monthly payment of $500. Financing of the project took eighteen months and includes a combination of SRP Earthwise Solar program funds, USDA grants (through the Rural Energy for America Program), and the US Treasury Tax Credit (30%), converted to cash.
Construction began in September 2010, with construction financing and a term loan to support the project provided by Farm Credit Services Southwest. The Zimmerman turned on the new solar powered meter on March 14, 2011, completing phase one of a two-part photovoltaic (PV) solar project which will eventually provide all of its electricity needs. PV is a mature technology with a reliable performance record of more than 50 years. Utilizing semi-conductor material similar to that used in computers, this PV system has no mechanical moving parts. Electrical current is produced from the photons of sunlight (as opposed to the heat) knocking electrons from the semi-conductor material. The electricity producing material is not consumed in the process. The power production is under warrantee for 25 years with module life exceeding 35 years. The second phase of the project, currently scheduled for completion by the end of 2011, will supply approximately the remainder.
A dairy similar the size of Zimmerman's requires four acres of solar panels to generate 100% of the electrical needs. Space becomes an issue to consider. Rather than a roof-mounted system or taking up future corral or milking parlor space, the Zimmerman's solar collection panels are ground-mounted ½ mile away, allowing for easier installation, maintenance, and expansion. "This is what makes the Zimmerman project unlike any other solar project in the world," explained Orlowski. "Usually, the inverters (which convert the DC energy from the solar panels to AC voltage) are within 10 feet of the meter. The inverters at Zimmerman's are 2000 feet away."
The Zimmermans have been dairying in Arizona since the 1920's, starting in Scottsdale, then in Gilbert and finally moving to Queen Creek in 1992. Four generations have operated the Zimmerman Dairy, which currently milks approximately 1,000 Holsteins. The Zimmerman Dairy Solar Project is the first of many that stakeholders hope to see flourish in the Arizona desert. Utility savings for each dairy operation will vary with each operation's size, and solar exposure, but savings are expected to range from 30 to 70 percent at existing utility power prices.
For more information please visit the Zimmerman Dairy Solar Project web site.