Local agricultural giant The Wonderful Co. plans to announce March 26 it will power its operations with only renewable energy by 2025, joining a growing list of companies moving away from petroleum-generated electricity.
The Los Angeles-based company will supplement its already significant investment in solar projects by buying electricity from third-party developers of solar plants. It will continue to use liquid petroleum fuels for the majority of its transportation needs.
"As a responsible steward of the environment, we've invested more than $300 million in sustainability research and innovations, clean energy and prudent use of natural resources," Wonderful Chairman and President Stewart Resnick said in a news release. "This is the natural progression of our sustainability efforts and the right thing for us to do as leaders in the agriculture industry."
As part of the transition, Wonderful has agreed to become part of RE100, a collaborative group of companies moving toward greater use of renewables. Members of the group that have committed to moving toward full reliance on renewable energy include Ikea, Bank of America and eBay.
Wonderful, Kern County's leader in almond, pistachio and mandarin production, expanded into renewable electricity with its 2007 construction of a ground-mounted solar installation that was, at the time, the nation's largest single-site solar plant owned by a privately held company. That project provided 15 percent of the energy consumed by its pistachios and almonds processing facility
Six years later, the company installed rooftop solar panels at its Justin Wines, Wonderful Pistachios & Almonds and Halos (mandarins) facilities.
Then, in January, it signed an agreement with NextEra Energy to build a 23-megawatt solar installation on 157 acres of fallow farmland Wonderful owns in the Central Valley. When complete, that project is expected to power 25 percent of its operations.
Company officials said the commitment to renewables will require Wonderful to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on power-purchase agreements during the next two decades.
The energy initiative pairs with the company's continuing efforts to make the most efficient use possible of irrigation water.
Bakersfield public relations professional Marlene Heise said the push into renewables will bolster what is already a strong brand. She said customers are likely to think of Wonderful as a kind, gentle company.
"I think people feel that the brand is trying to do something for the world or for the community," she said. "They’re involved, they’re conscious, they’re aware. They’re on top of where things are going.”
Wonderful's vice president of strategy, Steven Swartz, said the transition is about more than good PR.
"First and foremost, we think it's the right thing to do," he said. "We're always trying to push the boundary for being innovative and forward-thinking." He added that moving to 100 percent renewables presents financial value for the company.
Swartz also said the company has no plan to buy renewable energy credits from other companies that have made certified investments for sale to others.
"We're not interested in buying the claims," he said.