Uesugi Farms’ Peter Aiello ushered in a new era of self-sustainability Friday for his family’s agricultural business, located at 1020 Highway 25 in Gilroy, near the border of San Benito County.
With Santa Clara County District 1 Supervisor Mike Wasserman, Mayor Don Gage, representatives from Santa Clara-based Vista Solar and family and friends in attendance, Aiello spelled out the major benefit of the 791 kilowatt, 2,724-module solar panel installation that has sprouted up in one of his fields.
“No more will we write big checks to PG&E,” Aiello, owner and general manager of Uesugi Farms, beamed. “It’s really cool watching the meter spin backwards.”
As onlookers sat on picnic benches with umbrellas to shade them from the sun, Gage lauded the solar project, the fifth-largest in Santa Clara County, and held it up as a shining example of farmers working to conserve energy and resources.
“There are no better people for conservation than farmers,” Gage said. “They are the stewards of this land.”
The solar panel installation will supply 90 percent of Uesugi Farms on-site electrical needs, saving them about $2.5 million over the course of the next 25 years, according to Vista Solar Sales Manager Dan Arlan. Every year, it will offset the release of 800 tons of carbon into the atmosphere and generate enough power to supply 110 average-sized homes.
The idea for solar occurred to Aiello five years ago, but it wasn’t until a chance meeting with Vista Solar representatives at a Farm Bureau barbecue about two years ago that things progressed.
“We get calls all the time from solar companies looking to get into agriculture,” said Jennifer Scheer, executive director of the Santa Clara County Farm Bureau. “But Vista Solar rose to the top.”
Arlan is thankful that he got to work with Aiello and everyone at Uesugi Farms in transforming four acres of unusable farmland into a power plant for the future.
“We see Uesugi as a leader,” Arlan said. “We love being out here.”
The Vista Solar workers endured harsh conditions during the installation process at the end of last year, Arlan said. In Friday’s bright sun, all the memories of sliding around in mud and working in the rain evaporated.
“It’s a great day,” Arlan said.
The project has also caught the attention of Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, who sent framed certificates of recognition to Uesugi Farms and Vista Solar.
Wasserman rounded out the series of short speeches before the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Echoing Gage and Aiello before him he hammered home the importance of getting energy conservation projects like the one at Uesugi Farms up and running.
“We need our farmers to stay,” Wasserman implored. “It’s a win-win-win on all accounts.”
Delivering a rebuke to sections of the public who are often quicker to criticize agriculture than to praise it, Wasserman offered up his own heartfelt observation.
“Farmers are America,” Wasserman said to rapturous applause. “You’re the best.”