With much of the world’s scientific community warning of dire consequences from long-term climate change caused by the increased burning of fossil fuels, the concept of “green energy” is gaining momentum in the grain processing industry.
Recently, several mid-sized and large grain processing companies have begun experimenting with renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. These companies should be commended for being willing to explore the viability of using renewable energy sources, which help reduce the amount of harmful fossil fuel emissions into the earth’s atmosphere. Those leading the way in this quest to go green include:
Stafford County Flour Mills, which installed a wind turbine at its 2,400-cwt-per day mill in Hudson, Kansas, U.S., in 2014, making it the first commercial flour milling facility in North America to use wind power-generated electricity produced on site.
Miller Milling Company, which in 2017 began harnessing the sun’s energy to partially power its facility in Fresno, California, U.S., that produces 9,500 cwts of flour per day. The energy coming from the solar panels installed adjacent to the mill provide about 17% of the power needed to run the plant.
CBH, with operations in Australia, which has some of the highest energy costs in the world, has been using solar panels since 2015 at its facilities in Geraldton, Avon and Merredin, as part of a companywide effort to save energy. CBH officials say the investment in renewable energy has created around $3 million in savings.
One of the drawbacks of green energy is not every facility is located in the optimal environment for using solar or wind power. It’s not surprising that the first flour mill in the United States using wind energy is in Kansas, one of the nation’s windiest states. And if you had to pick two locations where a grain processing facility could thrive on solar energy, California, with its abundant sunshine, would be near the top of the list, as would Australia, which has more solar coverage per square meter than any other continent in the world.
While the efforts of these companies to be environmentally conscious is sincere, whether this becomes a long-term trend or just a short-lived experiment in an industry with notoriously tight profit margins will likely hinge on two factors: cost-effectiveness and reliability. How quickly will a move to wind or solar energy as a supplemental power source pay for itself and is the equipment able to operate for long stretches with minimal maintenance and breakdowns?
Derek Foote, assistant manager for Stafford County Flour Mills, said the company’s wind turbine produces between 140,000 to 260,000 kilowatt hours per month. When averaged out over a year, it “produces the amount of energy that the flour mill uses itself.” He estimates that the turbine, which has a lifespan of 20 to 25 years, will have paid for itself in seven years.
Damon Sidles, plant manager of the Miller Milling facility in Fresno, said the solar panels also will pay for themselves (the project total was $2.5 million) relatively quickly, and the panels are under warranty for 25 years, and at age 25 are guaranteed to operate at 85% efficiency.
In both cases, the companies sell power back to the grid when the mills are down and receive credits from the utility company.
Those hesitant to commit to these cutting-edge methods of supplying power will undoubtedly keep a watchful eye on these three companies to see how their experiment in energy savings plays out. If they truly enjoy energy savings and are receiving a steady, reliable power supply from these technologies, then other mills in locations suitable for solar and wind energy are sure to follow suit.