The sun will soon play a bigger role for four Finger Lakes wineries, an area industry increasing turning toward solar power.
The latest four worked together on the switch: Hunt Country Vineyards in Branchport; Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery in Lodi; Dr. Frank’;s Vinafera Cellars in Hammondsport, and O-Neh-Da and Eagle Crest Vineyards in Conesus.
Each winery has its own collection of solar panels, which, depending on the winery, are designed to produce 50 to 100 percent of their electrical needs.
“Each system is designed specifically for each winery,” said Suzanne Hunt, president of the energy advisory firm, Hunt Green LLC, and daughter of Hunt Country owners Art and Joyce Hunt. She recently relocated back to the area from Washington, D.C.
“Our family has made our living for five generations by harvesting the sun’s energy to ripen our grapes,” said John Wagner, co-owner of Wagner Vineyards. “Our installation of a large-scale solar array at Wagner Vineyards is a logical step for us to take as we continue to enhance our farm winery’s sustainability.”
Systems producing 109 kilowatts of electricity at Hunt Country and 51 kilowatts at Dr. Frank’s were completed this summer. Still in progress are systems that will produce 250 kilowatts at Wagner Vineyards and 62 kilowatts at O-Neh-Da and Eagle Crest.
Hunt said solar power will produce 70 to 80 percent of the electricity needs at her parent’s winery, due to some technical limitations, and up to 100 percent at Wagner.
“The output will vary. It is very dependent on weather, the day, time and time of year,” Hunt said. “We sized the system to make as much power a winery thinks they will need over a year. At Hunt, the panels cover the roof of a production facility, tasting room and workshop.”
Solar panels are becoming increasingly visible in Finger Lakes Wine Country. Lakewood Vineyards in Watkins Glen installed a 47-kilowatt system in 2012. Fox Run Vineyards in Penn Yan added a 150-kilowatt system this year. Penguin Bay and Silver Thread are among the other wineries that have or are in the process of adopting sun power.
Hunt said the four latest wineries converting to solar power can expect to eventually save hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs, and recoup the cost of installing the system in five to eight years. After seven years, energy savings for Hunt Country will be in the range of $20,000 a year, she said. The panels, meanwhile, are American made and come with a 25-year warranty, she added.
“With the extraction, storage, and transport of fossil fuels there are always risks of leakage and accidents resulting in water, air, and soil contamination. There’s never going to be a solar spill,” said Joyce Hunt, Hunt country co-owner.
Environmental concerns are among factors driving investment in solar power.
“The cost of solar power has gone down dramatically from past years,” Suzanne Hunt said. “There are federal tax credits and state incentives,” she said, the latter being grants from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, NYSERDA, which promotes energy efficiency and use of renewable energy sources.
She also said New York’s ban on fracking and the current controversy over gas storage projects on Seneca Lake are driving interest in a clean energy alternative like solar among wineries and other area businesses.
Finger Lakes Wine Country, a tourism and marketing association, made the announcement Friday about the four wineries. It said their collaborative project will result in removal of about 460 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year for the life of the solar systems, which they said is the equivalent of planting nearly 200 acres of trees or eliminating about 35 million vehicle miles.
Hunt Country Vineyard already is using geothermal energy to meet its heating and cooling needs and also has a small wind turbine. Suzanne Hunt said, “We want to help demonstrate these technologies and hope other wineries will shift to them too.”
“One thing I know growing up on a farm is that winery owners are way too busy to become educated on solar power and financing it. As an adviser, I helped them understand,” Hunt said.
New York-based District Sun designed, developed and helped arrange financing for the solar systems at the four wineries, said its founder, Mar Kelly. Local contractors installed the systems.
“We invested tens of thousands of dollars to make the systems risk-free,” she said. “This can be a model project for other wineries and businesses.”
The wineries worked closely with New York Green Bank, which helped organize discussions among the wineries and local banks. Lyons National Bank, Tompkins Trust, Farm Credit, and Five Star Bank, all based in the Finger Lakes, provided financing.
“Farming, tourism, and viticulture have always been tough businesses, but increasing competition, rising energy costs, and a changing climate will make them even more challenging going forward,” said Suzanne Hunt.
Article By: Bob Jamieson