Fruit processor harnesses solar power
Knouse Foods has long focused on sustainability and has plans for more sustainable practices in the future.
This 19-acre solar power system at Knouse Foods will generate 4 million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. The 14,000 230-watt polycrystalline solar panels face south with a 32-degree tilt. The system was installed on a long-closed waste-disposal site and took six months to complete.
Knouse Foods, a Pennsylvania-based grower-owned cooperative that is one of the largest fruit processors in the world, has had an environmental program for many years, but its newest project is a bright star, almost literally.
It is a 19-acre, 14,000-plus-panel, three-megawatt array of photovoltaic solar panels that will generate about 4 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year for its Peach Glen processing plant. The plant is a year-round operation processing apples, cherries, and peaches into apple slices, pie fillings, apple rings, apple juice, and vinegar. The facility also bottles drinks under co-packing contracts.
The solar project, which is large enough to power about 400 typical homes, generates nearly 29 percent of the annual energy needs of the Peach Glen facility, including three separate refrigerated warehouses for fruit and ingredient storage. During the sunny summer season, the field of solar panels will produce about 45 percent of the facility’s electrical needs.
The direct current power from the panels feeds through three power vaults, where it is inverted to 480-volt alternating current. This power is fed into a mile-long transmission line to the Peach Glen facility. The power is net metered at that point and can become part of the common grid operated by Metropolitan Edison.
“We’re very proud of it,” says Manager of Environmental Affairs Charlie Bennett. “We think it’s quite a project for a cooperative owned by fruit growers.”
It’s a way in which the orchardists who own Knouse Foods can use company ground to sustain the cooperative and the environment by capturing sunlight for power generation and using it in ways that don’t emit carbon dioxide and pollutants into the atmosphere, he said.
This solar project was a significant undertaking by Knouse Foods and its board of directors. It required a substantial capital investment for the cooperative and was funded in part by the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority, the Commonwealth Financing Authority, and federal grants that support green energy projects. Gannet Fleming of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, designed and built the project and will operate and maintain it for the next ten years.
By good fortune, Dickinson Township in Cumberland County, had created a conservation zone that included solar power in its definition. The site is located just north of the Adams County line and Peach Glen. It was technically a “brownfield,” a former fruit processing waste site that Knouse Foods closed in 1990. With the solar project, that land became productive once again last December.
Over its expected 25-year life, the facility’s estimated production will offset the energy of 200,000 barrels of oil and eliminate carbon dioxide emissions of 112 million pounds.
“Solar power and cost-effective green energy production are very important to us,” Bennett stated in a press release from the company announcing the completion of the project. “Our cooperative cares about continuing to reduce our impact on the local community and the
world around us, and hosting the Peach Glen solar project demonstrates our commitment to sustainability.”
In an interview with Good Fruit Grower, Bennett said Knouse’s commitment to sustainable practices goes back to the early days of the cooperative and the growers responsible for its formation in 1949. With Bennett’s guidance, the company recently completed a sustainability plan looking ahead to the year 2020.
The plan has established goals at the orchard level, the plant level, and the corporate level, he said.
The company is implementing the SQF—Safe Quality Foods—auditing system at each of its six processing facilities and hopes that many of its customers will accept the SQF 2000, level 3 certification, thus reducing the need for standalone audits from each customer.
The Five R’s
Before SQF and what are now called sustainability efforts, the cooperative adopted a “Five R’s” philosophy—Recycle, Repair, Reuse, Reduce, and Rethink. On its Web site, it lists some of the things it has done over the years to reduce its environmental footprint.
- Sends peels and cores left from apple sauce and slice production to cider mills for juice pressing. Apple pomace, the pressed apple material from juice production, ends up as cattle feed. About 6 million pounds a year are sold to local livestock producers. The company partnered with Pennsylvania State University to develop a complete ration formula for cattle feed.
- Sends leaves and floor waste back to orchards.
- Worked with regional projects where cherry pits are used as furnace fuel and cooperated in efforts to develop biofuels from fruit waste.
- Recycles glass, plastic, metal, and paper products, as well as fluorescent light tubes, ballasts, lamps, mercury devices, batteries, computer components, and other items.
- Developed a fish nursery at its Orrtanna plant where a local sportsman’s club can grow fingerlings for stocking ponds and local streams.
- Recycles motor oil for use in combination with natural gas to power steam production boilers at all its Pennsylvania facilities.
- Uses a blend of soybean-based biodiesel fuel for its trucking fleets and plant equipment at the Peach Glen facility.
- Captures waste water from fruit-processing operations at the four Adams County plants to spray on permitted sites. Some 160 million gallons per year are returned to the local water or hydrologic cycle in this manner.
- Minimized or eliminated packaging. Recycled content is used in some plastic containers.
- Replaced bimetal 5.5-ounce apple juice cans with all aluminum.
Knouse Foods has plans for future improvements in the company’s sustainability efforts, Bennett said. The company is looking at a project that would make further use of bagged hydrated lime that has been used in sealed room air scrubbing in controlled atmosphere storages. It could be used to sweeten or neutralize acid stream water and soil in reclaiming land after coal mining operations.
“Many other ideas are being explored, with some having proved successful, and some not, although everything points to a very successful outcome from pursuing the solar project,” he said.