Houweling says the co-generation plant is a big investment but he expects it will pay off in the long run.
"There will be a big benefit because we won't be exposed to energy prices because we are selling the electricity," Houweling said. "Long-term we believe this will stabilize our production costs."
The power industry has looked at many types of carbon storage projects over the years as a way to reducing atmospheric emissions of the heat-trapping gas. Some firms have tried injecting it underground to abandoned mines or salt deposits, others have tried bubbling CO2 through ponds of microscopic algae. But Houweling says that the extra CO2 is a perfect fit for his greenhouse. He already has to purchase the gas anyway from an industrial supplier to makes his plants grow.
HOWSTUFFWORKS: Growing Tomatoes
"In a greenhouse, if we don't add C02," Houweling said, "the plants will pull down the level so much they will stop growing."
Houweling says the addition of the co-generation plant makes his greenhouse facility almost 100 percent energy-efficient. He recycles 90 percent of his waste, captures rainwater for irrigation, and has deployed five acres of solar panels. The greenhouse-grown tomatoes also use less land than traditional row farming. That is a further energy savings, according to Scott Nolen, product line leader for General Electric.