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Santa Sweets' solar power project exceeding expectations

by Tad Thompson | November 11, 2010
CEDARVILLE, NJ — A new solar power system is complete and running even more efficiently than expected for Santa Sweets Inc., here.

Kevin Delaney, director of corporate sustainability and productivity for Procacci Bros. and Santa Sweets, took The Produce News on a tour of the largest part of the solar power network Nov. 8.

Santa Sweets operates two tomato packinghouses and temperature- controlled warehouses here, which have a total space of about 200,000 square feet. The facilities are within a couple hundred yards of one another. Collectively, the facilities operate the new two-megawatt solar panel farm.

The first part of the project was completed last December. The second section's completion was celebrated Oct. 12.

Mr. Delaney said the company originally projected that the solar electric project would supply 92 percent of the facilities’ energy needs. Now it appears the blue solar panels may provide 100 percent of the power needs.

The solar energy system stretches across 10 acres and consists of over 11,000 solar photovoltaic panels.

According to information provided by Santa Sweets, this makes "one of the largest renewable energy investments undertaken by a fresh tomato grower."

Mr. Delaney said that the solar energy project has become the centerpiece of the sustainability and social responsibility project that he heads for Procacci Bros. and Santa Sweets, which are sister companies. His work also involves wellness and education initiatives for the firms’ employees.

Mr. Delaney said that his boss, J.M. Procacci, began looking at solar power alternatives seven years ago. It was only two years ago that new technology made this move economically feasible.

At the Oct. 12 event to celebrate the system, Mr. Procacci noted, “This latest environmental investment is just one example of how we are working to reduce our carbon footprint. From clean energy to recycling nearly everything on the farm, helping the environment is not only paramount in our daily operations and company philosophy, but is a principle that guides all of our activities.”

Another speaker in October was Bob Goodwin, director of facilities at Santa Sweets, who led the solar energy system construction. “Over its life expectancy, the panels will provide the equivalent CO2 reduction as planting over 261,000 trees,” he said.

Based on typical utility pollution and the expected energy produced from the two sites, the system will prevent emissions of over 86,000 tons of carbon dioxide, over 380 tons of sulfur dioxide and over 120 tons of nitrogen oxide.

Santa Sweets, which is based in Plant City, FL, grows grape tomatoes using first-generation seed, which provides the purest variety on the market, according to the company. Santa Sweets is also the grower of “UglyRipes” brand heirloom tomatoes.

The company operates in Florida, North Carolina, New Jersey and Mexico in order to maintain year-round availability for its customers. Santa Sweets plans to expand its solar energy efforts to other locations.