The future looks bright

Rush Ranch ups its solar power

Rush Ranch runs almost entirely on sun now.

A longstanding project to upgrade the energy system at Rush Ranch reached completion in April with the implementation of twelve solar panels on a ground-mounted array.

This exciting milestone, five years in the making, enables us to safely increase public use, tighten the operational budget, and supply the infrastructure needs necessary to make Rush Ranch a legacy accessible for future generations.

Stand south of the white-painted clapboard offices and you now will see a shimmering, obsidian-colored 16-by-10-foot plane of solar panels. It may not match the paint of the buildings, but this welcome addition honors the self-sufficiency of the ranch’s roots. These panels, along with the original roof-mounted panels, now power Rush Ranch’s facilities, with the former propane tank serving rarely as reserve power during periods of limited sun.

In the last few years, as our operations expanded and partnerships grew, the previous system lagged on days without sun, forcing Rush Ranch to rely on propane. The upgrade, undertaken by Christian Brothers Construction in Fairfield, represents a 50% expansion of the 11.5 kW generating capacity of the existing 66 panel system, says sustainability consultant Brad Smith.

With the upgrade, SLT will be able to keep costs—and our carbon footprint—down, while safely accommodating the communities who use the space. Pandemics permitting, Rush Ranch plans to host over 30 field trips for elementary school students next year, host multiple activities, and expand ADA-approved infrastructure for visitors with disabilities.

The solar array also powers the electric pump system, filling four water cisterns for cattle, the primary grazers of the property. (The original wind turbine that handled this has spun itself into obsolescence.) 

The new system also frees up staff time for other projects. There is little love lost for the old system, which required a monthly top-off with distilled water of twelve batteries “the size of mini-fridges,” says field operations manager Jordan Knippenberg. “Inevitably, you’d end up covered in battery acid, with holes in your clothes.” The new Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries require no maintenance, are non-toxic and safe, and are expected to perform well for 15 to 20 years.

Thanks to a National Estuarine Research Reserve grant, funds from the Solano County Orderly Growth Committee, and the continued generosity of our donors, a brighter future shines before Rush Ranch and the community it serves.

Between sunshine and battery acid, the choice is clear as day.

Text and photos by Samuel Adams.