Skip to content

Sun-Powered Snacking

Ethan Watters | May 2, 2023

Impact | The Originate Initiative

Processing 100,000 pounds of grain a day takes a lot of energy, and this plant gets it from the sun

The sun shines more than 270 days of the year in Fresno, Calif., home of the Corn Nuts® brand roasting and packaging facility. That sunshine, combined with the rich alluvial soil of the San Joaquin River valley, makes for a great place to grow the Peruvian Cusco hybrid corn that creates those distinctive extra-large kernels. But the farmers aren’t the only ones who employ energy from the sun. Thanks to visionary managers, those sunny days now power nearly all of the Corn Nuts® facility’s activity — even after the sun goes down.

The Corn Nuts® brand began its solar journey in 2017 when it made an agreement with SolarCity to build a large solar array. The plant agreed to provide a four-acre lot they weren’t using adjacent to the facility and SolarCity would fund the capital investment. In return, the plant would promise to buy the power from the facility at a fixed rate for 20 years. In the end, the project would become an example of one of the most high-tech, state-of-the-art solar projects ever developed and one of the five biggest in the state.

A section of the Corn Nuts Solar array in Fresno, CA

A section of the Corn Nuts® brand Solar array in Fresno, CA

Benefits for the Company and the Community

At the time the deal was signed, the electricity rates the plant agreed to pay were significantly below the market. Since then, electricity costs in California have risen every year and show no signs of decreasing. Now the rates for the Corn Nuts® brand plant are far below what other businesses in Fresno are paying PG&E for power. On holidays and weekends when the plant isn’t running, the solar array continues to create electricity. The charge that can’t be stored in the onsite batteries is fed back into the community grid. The plants get credit, at the current rate, which offsets the times on cloudy days that the plant has to draw power from the grid.

“There are huge economic advantages to the deal. It helps us reduce our business cost, improve our margins and keep us competitive in the market,” says Pattani. “But more importantly, we are providing sustainable energy to this community. We’re helping the whole town use renewable energy. You can see the panels as you drive by our facility and everyone knows that’s where we get the energy to make our Corn Nuts® products. We are very proud to have this in our backyard.”

It takes sun to grow corn and it takes sun to put the CORN NUTS® products in the bag

Dan Pattani, Plant Manager

The location of this solar installation, in the middle of the city of Fresno, is a testament to how solar can be easily integrated into urban environments, unlike traditional power plants. The array is surrounded by schools, apartment buildings, homes and other businesses. The plant is just a block away from Sequoia Middle School and the only real impact is the aroma of roasting corn kernels that sometimes drifts into classrooms.