Pecan farm begins to save with sun

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Sunshine is something New Mexico has plenty of and which offers residents an opportunity to harness low-cost, clean energy.

The Four Daughters Land & Cattle Company, owned by the Mechenbier family, are taking advantage of the sun’s gifts, plus a hefty grant from the USDA Rural Energy for America Program.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: A 564-panel solar energy system was installed at the Burris Pecan Farm in Belen with the help of a USDA REAP grant. Pictured, from left, are farm owner Mike Mechenbier, his wife, Kathy, their daughter and farm manager, Emily, Terry Brunner, state director of USDA rural development, and farm finance controller Harvey Crowley.

At the Mechenbier’s pecan farm south of Belen, a 564-panel solar system has been installed to provide the electricity needed to power irrigation pumps, making the farm more profitable and competitive.

The total energy capabilities of the system is 147 kilowats and cost $428,402 to construct, but the family was able to offset the expense with $107,100 from a REAP grant.

The system was designed, engineered and installed by DPW Solar in Albuquerque, using all U.S.-made components, such as the photovoltaic panels, inverters and other parts, plus solar panel racks made in Albuquerque, said Kevin Goodreau, vice president of DPW Solar.

“Whenever we were pumping water, we would always have to pump at night because the electric costs were lower at night,” said farm manager Emily Mechenbier. “Now it’s a lot easier for us because we can pump (during the day) and not have it be any more expensive.”

Annual farm savings on electricity costs are expected to be $25,000 at a minimum, but when the pecan processing plant is built within the next three years, savings will be at least $60,000 annually, said Harvey Crowely, the farm accountant.

Crowley says the Mechenbiers will receive about $0.05 per kW production credit from PNM when the system exceeds its consumption and produces surplus energy.

“The system will pay for itself in about 3 1/2 years,” said Mike Mechenbier, the patriarch of the family. “For an investment like this — for it to have a break-even in 3 1/2 years — is unbelievable. It makes extremely good financial sense for people to consider this as an alternative to other fuels.”

Anyone with a rural business, ranching or farming operation that needs to replace old energy-draining equipment can apply for a REAP grant. It works on a competitive basis and reimburses up to a quarter of the total project costs, said Jesse Bopp, USDA Rural Development loan specialist. There is also a USDA loan guarantee program for up to 80 percent.

During the REAP grant dedication ceremony Friday, Terry Brunner, the state director of the USDA rural development program, said the program has been very successful and has a lot of projects around the state.

“Going solar is one of those things — a new technology, that makes a lot of sense here in New Mexico,” Brunner said. “I commend the Four Daughters Land & Cattle for accessing our alternative energy program. Our financing will help this growing business with their bottom line by reducing their energy costs.”

REAP helps farmers, ranchers and small businesses in rural America with loan and grant financial opportunities to build renewable energy systems and to make energy efficiency improvements.

Congress has been funding the program year after year, and this year will provide an extra $200,000 to $400,000 to spend around the state, Brunner said.

In the last five years, the program has invested about $1.7 billion in New Mexico rural development.

“We can always be doing more,” Brunner said. “So as you think up ideas for your community, give us a call and maybe there’s some way we can help out.”

Over the past four years, REAP has invested $263,953 in renewable energy projects with Four Daughters LLC, Tru LLC, Blue Skies Consulting, Hydrocut, Inc., Pete’s Cafe, Rodeaway Ranch LLC and Teofilo’s.

For more information on the REAP program, visit USDA’s new energy website at www.usda.gov/energy or call the Rural Development state office in Albuquerque at 761-4952.