PG&E Helps Agricultural Customers Find Solutions

PGE representatives in front of ag pumpCalifornia’s prolonged and near-record–setting drought is taking a severe toll on one of the state’s biggest economic drivers — agriculture. Farmers from Chico to Bakersfield are fallowing fields, and ranchers are selling off herds or leaving the business altogether. PG&E is working with its agricultural customers to find solutions to lessen the impacts of the drought.

“Right now we’re experiencing one of the worst droughts in California history,” said Rick Ponciano, ranch manager of Rancho Esquon in Durham, south of Chico. The ranch took more than 850 acres out of production this year, costing about $400,000 in lost revenues and several harvest jobs.

“This is by far the largest drop in our underground water table that I have ever experienced in four decades of farming,” said Russel Efird of Double E Farms. Efird and his son farm about 1,500 acres including almonds, walnuts, wine and raisin grapes, and prunes in Fresno County. “Short term, I’ve had to drop my wells down deeper. Long term, it’s a question of sustainability.”

PG&E recognizes the critical nature of the agriculture industry in this state and the effect drought is having on agriculture customers, said Pat Mullen, Central Coast region director for PG&E. “We are doing everything we can to help support and mitigate the impacts to these customers.”

PG&E has a range of energy efficiency programs and incentives to help agricultural customers reduce their water and energy usage, and therefore their costs. The utility is also planning to add new rebates in light of the drought to help agricultural customers stay in business.

PG&E has increased rebates up to 33 percent for the Advanced Pumping Efficiency Program (APEP). It costs more to operate agricultural pumps if pumps need repairs, are poorly matched to the pumping load, or are not installed correctly. A pump efficiency test will determine pump performance and whether retrofits or maintenance is needed.

Working to increase pump efficiency

“We do pump testing at best case scenario in the spring when the water table is at its highest and at worst case scenario in August,” said Ponciano who has used the PG&E pump efficiency testing program. “We’ve got nine wells that we converted the last couple of years.

“With the variable speed drive you can dial in what you need, you can use less horsepower and only pull the water that you’re actually using, which cuts both energy usage and costs,” he said.

Efird uses the pump efficiency testing program, too.

“I’m on a pump-tester’s schedule – I want it every two years. Then, if we have a pump that measures on the low side for efficiency, we can upgrade it,” said Efird.

Catarino Martinez of Donald Valpredo Farms in Kern County said reviewing his account and rates on an annual basis with his account representative has helped tremendously in managing energy costs.

“I’ve done variable frequency drives, pump repair, to where we had a pre-pump test and post-pump test and have been able to take advantage of some pump repair incentives,” said Martinez.

Martinez received rebates from PG&E totaling more than $50,000, reducing usage by more than 387,000 kilowatt hours. The bill savings totaled $54,000.

The utility also has created and launched a new program for small and medium agriculture customers who want to install low-flow irrigation nozzles or convert sprinklers to drip irrigation. (Watch a video on the benefits of micro and drip irrigation.)

Efird also has utilized this program, most recently converting 300 acres of almonds from micro-sprinklers to a drip line.

Incentives help save energy and money

In addition to working with farmers and ranchers, PG&E also offers incentives for more efficient cooling systems for wineries, dairies and water suppliers, and for more efficient cooling systems and components that cool fruit, vegetables, milk and wine.

The drought already has had far-reaching impacts on the agricultural community. PG&E has seen a dramatic increase in requests for new or additional pumping service. Requests jumped 40 percent in June 2014 over the same period last year.

Mullen encourages farmers who are seeking new or additional pumping services to apply early. The utility has moved additional resources to high agricultural areas to meet the growing application demand.

PG&E formed an agricultural customer advisory group to provide the utility with feedback on the types of programs and services that would be most helpful to their businesses. Mullen said that feedback has been invaluable in developing and expanding programs and services.

“I don’t worry about myself, I do worry about my son, and I definitely worry about my grandchildren,” said Efird who plans to pass down the family farming business. “Will they be able to farm in this Valley?”

“I think water conservation is certainly the key to pulling us through this drought, and I think the more the public and the farmers can work together the better off we’re going to be,” said Ponciano. “We all work together and try to conserve water.”

PG&E offers a list of drought resources on its website. Email Currents at


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