California Solar Wineries Sizzle With Clean Power

Solar powered wineries are using the energy from the sun to not only grow grapes, but also to off-set their electric need for tasting rooms, production and on-site residences. In California, Napa leads the way, but up and down the state many wineries are jumping into solar, installing panels and finding out the benifits are not just great PR but money in their pockets while making themselves leaders in renewable energy. Constellation Wines has now jumped in installing a total of four megawatt solar arrays at multiple locations.

Installing solar makes sence because a portion of the wineries energy costs expenses are locked and federal and California solar incentives make solar financially appealing for wineries. In many cases, the return on investment for installing solar is as short as 5 to 7 years which is comparable to other winery equipment purchases.

North Bay Business Journal Constellation Wines U.S., one of the world’s largest wine companies and operator of several North Coast wineries, last week unveiled a solar electricity project at four California wineries including Clos du Bois and Ravenswood expected to be one of the largest solar installation projects for the wine industry when completed by the end of this year.

The multimillion-dollar solar project will include 17,000 solar panels producing a total of 3.95 megawatts of direct-current power, according to Greg Fowler, senior vice president of operations. It is estimated to provide all the annual power needs for Estancia in Monterey County and Ravenswood in Sonoma, 75 percent of consumption at Clos du Bois in Geyserville and 60 percent of the Gonzalez winery in the city by the same name. The Gonzalez solar project was completed last year.

The project was paid for in part via federal and state incentives. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides a 30 percent tax incentive for solar projects this year. The California Solar Initiative provides significant energy rate incentives for solar energy projects through Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

Rep. Mike Thompson congratulated the wine industry for 19 solar projects in Sonoma County, producing 2.5 megawatts a year. “As an organic grower myself, I know it’s the right thing to do, but it’s expensive,” he said at the press conference Monday.

Constellation expects the solar installation to save the company $1 million a year in energy costs.

Company CEO Rob Sands said the solar installation project is one of several examples that sustainability is not a catchword for the world’s largest wine producer.

“It’s important that people who make their living from the land be good stewards of the environment and installing solar panels only makes sense,” he said.

He noted that the company completed a carbon footprint analysis for its global operations in 2009 and this year. All 13 wineries and all eight vineyards totaling 12,000 acres are certified by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance and post-crush grape waste is converted to electrical energy.

The company is looking at more large solar installations at Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville and Franciscan Estates winery in St. Helena two of the leading wine products on the west coast.

Constellation hired Southern California-based Genesis Renewable Solar Energy, which has a project-management office in Sebastopol, to design, install, operate, monitor and maintain the solar systems. San Diego-based Silverwood Energy is the solar installation contractor. Local contractors used for the Ravenswood and Clos du Bois projects are metal roofer David Rodarmel Inc. and roof maintainer Wine Country Roofing, both of Santa Rosa.