Tomato plant can issue bonds for solar array

MERCED — Ingomar Packing Co. of Los Banos is the first direct recipient of the county's designation as an economic recovery zone.

The Merced County Board of Supervisors approved a program April 13 that allows the tomato packing plant to fund a new photovoltaic solar array with $3.5 million in bonds with favorable terms. The county isn't responsible for the cost of the project or for repaying the loan, just helping the company find its way to a lender, said Mark Hendrickson, director of economic development for the county.

The so-called recovery zone bond program was created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009. Interest rates on the recovery zone bonds run 20 percent to 40 percent lower than conventional bank loans and other financing.

The bonds are available only in areas showing significant poverty, unemployment, rate of home foreclosures or significant distress; that are economically distressed by the closure or realignment of a military base; or that already were classified as an empowerment zone or renewal community.

Tim Durham, director of operations for Ingomar Packing, said construction of the solar array could begin by the end of this month.

Plans for the project call for a five-acre array of 6,408 solar panels that will be installed by Sun Edison Solar Electricity.

"We're undergoing a large expansion. This solar project is part of that. We felt that we needed to make movement toward decreasing our overall carbon footprint," Durham said. "We think this will certainly help California. It provides energy at peak times in the summer, when energy is at its highest demand."