This Hearst ranch has raised cattle since 1865. Now it also powers Apple's headquarters

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This Hearst ranch has raised cattle since 1865. Now it also powers Apple's headquarters

  • The historic Hearst cattle ranch has become a hybrid solar farm for Apple's Cupertino campus.
  • The ranch claims to be the nation's largest single-source provider of grass-fed beef.
  • The project is still expanding, with the second phase of the 2.5 million solar panels being installed this year.
Credit: Hearst
Credit: Hearst

Apple has disrupted its fair share of industries over the years — but cattle ranching is usually not mentioned as one of them.

Nonetheless, the historic Hearst cattle ranch (yes, the Hearsts of magazine fame) has become a hybrid solar farm for Apple, merging the world of tech with a centuries-old trade.

Hearst Ranches takes up 150,000 acres in two properties on the border of San Luis Obispo County, and has raised cattle since 1865. Each cow there weighs about 1,200 pounds.

Credit: First Solar
Credit: First Solar

The ranch claims to be the nation's largest single-source provider of grass-fed beef, and is available either year-round or seasonally in Southern California Whole Foods Market locations (which, of course, is now owned by Apple-rival Amazon).

Hearst's 3,000-head cattle operation at Jack Ranch itself is markedly old West: "There is a code among cowboys that transcends copyrights, technology, and other manifestations of culture that some folks may consider 'modern,'" the website says. "The cowboy way is simple..... It may sound like a bygone era, but it is our reality."

But 150 years after George Hearst bought the ranch, it took on a new, ultra-modern function: A 2,900-acre solar farm, which until now has been contracted by Apple to run the company's Cupertino headquarters.

It wasn't easy to get the job, Hearst said in a statement, as it was "a huge, unbelievable construction project," but the long summer stretches of 115-degree heat helped seal the deal.

Credit: First Solar
Credit: First Solar

"Steve Hearst knew Steve Jobs and provided valuable support," said Benoit Allehaut, director at Capital Dynamics, which recently acquired this solar project from First Solar. "Apple had the choice between multiple projects but selected California Flats to supply their power demand. First Solar used their panels and managed the construction."

This plant's solar arrays, when operational, will track the arc of the sun.
This plant's solar arrays, when operational, will track the arc of the sun.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said in 2015 that the company would contribute $850 million to build the solar farm, which also aims to provide enough energy for 60,000 homes.

"We know in Apple that climate change is real. The time for talk is passed," he said at that time, according to Reuters. "The time for action is now."

The project is still expanding, with the second phase of the 2.5 million solar panels being installed this year, to provide energy offset for California customers. According to Hearst, "cowboys of Jack Ranch have been outnumbered by construction workers as the 280-megawatt solar project heads into its final month."

When fully operational, the project will generate enough clean solar energy
When fully operational, the project will generate enough clean solar energy

"There is an excellent synergy between the ranching operation and the project," Allehaut. "This solar farm will provide revenues to Hearst for the next 35 years which is an additional stream of revenue for Jack Ranch."

Credit: Hearst
Credit: Hearst

But even as Heart's core media business changes, the revenue was not the only draw of the project, which has been in the works since the early 2000s.

"It was the right thing to do for us, it was the right thing to do for the planet and it is certainly the right thing to do for the Jack Ranch," Hearst said.

CNBC Tech: Apple Campus 2
Megan Hawkins | CNBC

Hearst and Apple share more than just energy: Apple's new "spaceship" campus, which is powered by the solar panels, was designed by the same architect that designed Hearst Tower in New York City.

Hearst Building
Oliver Morris | Hulton Archive | Getty Images