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NatGas Shows Off Its Rural Side in California's Farm Belt

Natural gas tried to energize one of the nation's largest farm expos on Tuesday as Sempra Energy's Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) showed off its rural side in Tulare, CA, the heart of the state's bread basket, which coexists with the third-largest U.S. oil producing operations.

SoCalGas highlighted farm-based gas technologies at the 50th annual three-day World Agricultural (Ag) Expo (Feb. 14-16). The Los Angeles-based Sempra gas-only utility emphasized that this is the "largest event of its kind" in describing the size of the trade exposition in the Tulare International Agri-Center, along with the fact SoCalGas has participated in the event since its start.

The natural gas/agricultural connection covered everything from on-site distributed generation and repowered irrigation wells to long-haul semi-trucks for carrying farm products/equipment powered by the latest, near-zero emission natural gas engine.

According to SoCalGas marketing personnel, an increasing number of central California valley growers have been repowering their irrigation wells from diesel to natural gas, providing savings they claim are significant. "Some growers already have realized one-year paybacks in their engine purchases," the utility representatives said.

"At roughly half the cost, gas is still a cost-effective alternative to using electricity for irrigation."

As the need for groundwater pumping has accelerated during the past five-year drought, SoCalGas partnered with area farmers by installing dozens of new services and meters to serve irrigation wells. The gas utility claims that over the past decade, natural gas has been the farmers' lowest-cost alternative for water pumping; beating electricity and diesel.

The utility cites the example of an irrigation well's hourly cost running $20.40 for an electric motor; $18.45 for a diesel engine, and $8.63 for a natural gas engine. As the nation's largest gas distribution utility, SoCalGas is touting its ability to identify energy savings projects for the agricultural sector.

The utility returned more than $500,000 in energy efficiency funds to food processing customers in the San Joaquin Valley recently, with projects including heat recovery at a dairy processing plant, equipment modernization for a nut processing plant, and pump efficiency improvements for farmers.

Lisa Alexander, SoCalGas vice president for customers solutions/communications, said she enjoys seeing "how we can help this very important industry save money, energy and water by using natural gas."

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