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Winery pairs vines with volts, leads the way for solar on BPA's grid
9/12/2012 12:00 AM
King Estate Winery
near Eugene, Ore., is meticulous about its grapes. And because healthy wines require healthy soil, the winery is also meticulous about the earth. You'll find raptors, not pesticides, in the organic vineyard. You'll find productive bugs, not poisons.
And now, you'll also find 4,100 solar panels, painstakingly placed on the 1,000 acre estate to harvest the sun's rays.
The King Estate solar vineyard became the first utility-scale solar project to connect to the Bonneville Power Administration's transmission system earlier this year. The winery held a ribbon-cutting ceremony this summer, and recently launched an online solar monitoring tool (
), where visitors can see how much energy the plant is producing in real time.
The Willamette Valley is proving its value for both wine and watts. While the winter months are generally cool and wet, the plant can generate power even on cloudy days. And Willamette Valley summers bring months of sunshine. This growing season, buds on the vines popped early, and the 1,000-kilowatt project is meeting more than 50 percent of the winery's power needs.
In six months, the winery produced about 600,000 kilowatt-hours of clean, renewable power. King Estate uses about 2 million kilowatt-hours of energy annually. The winery meets its remaining energy needs with power purchased from Lane Electric Cooperative. King Estate is the co-op's largest customer.
BPA provides a balancing service for the variable solar plant - the same service it provides to the dozens of wind projects on its system that total more than 4,700 MW. BPA uses the federal hydropower system as a giant storage battery, ramping generation up and down to make up for unexpected increases or decreases in variable wind and solar energy.
King Estate is leading the way for other solar plants expected to come on line in the coming years. While the first solar addition to BPA's environmentally friendly power portfolio was a project in Ashland, Ore., in 2000, King Estate is the first project large enough to require BPA metering equipment for revenue purposes.
There are 10 other solar projects in line to connect to BPA's transmission system, including a 75 MW project in Kittitas County, Wash., that would be one of the largest solar projects in the world. The agency could have more than 150 MW of solar connected to its system by 2016, but many projects hinge on the extension of state and federal tax credits for renewable energy.
From pinot to power
King Estate Winery grows organic grapes, encourages a thriving raptor population to control pests naturally, and fertilizes by means of a massive composting system.
"Sustainability is a part of our company culture. It definitely emanates from the top down," explains Sasha Kadey, King Estate spokesperson. "It's not a gimmick - we just believe it's the right thing to do."
The winery is also pursuing energy efficiency. In one of the more energy intensive processes in winemaking, called cold stabilization, refrigeration is used to remove tartrate crystals (known as "wine diamonds") that form in low temperatures. King Estate is using new electrodialysis technology that produces a current and attracts the tartrates so they can be removed much more efficiently.
Its culture of sustainability fueled King Estate's commitment to the solar project, which took more than five years to get off the ground.
"We had to educate ourselves. There were a lot of moving parts, a lot of people involved," Kadey says.
Then there were the financial challenges. "It took a long time for us to get anywhere, to find out how to take full advantage of the tax credits," Kadey says. "We started looking for partners, and that's when we found SolarCity, which basically has a turn-key model to deal with the kinds of issues we were facing."
SolarCity, a San Mateo, Calif.,-based energy services provider, designed the solar plant and provided the financing, and Advanced Energy Systems installed the power system.
"It's already worth the effort, and I think it will prove out even more," Kadey says. More than 100,000 people visit the winery each year, and the project is in a public-facing position, visible from the nearby highway. "The solar vineyard will introduce many people to the possibilities of solar," Kadey says.
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