[caption id="attachment_24924" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="The first panels on the roof of the Clos du Bois winery in Geyserville were installed Sept. 13. (Jeff Quackenbush photo)"][/caption]
GEYSERVILLE -- Constellation Wines U.S., one of the world's largest wine companies and operator of several North Coast wineries, on Monday unveiled a solar-electricity project at four California wineries -- including Clos du Bois and Ravenswood -- expected to be one of the largest such projects for the wine industry when completed by the end of this year.
The multimillion-dollar 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 the 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 project was completed last year.
The project was paid for 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.
[caption id="attachment_24929" align="alignright" width="300" caption="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. (Jeff Quackenbush photo)"][/caption]
"These tax incentives, which help spur investments in alternative energy production, are an important way to help green our economy," said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, who helped write the incentives included in the federal economic stimulus initiative.
Constellation expects the solar installations to save the company $1 million a year in energy costs.
Company CEO Rob Sands said the 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," he said.
He noted that the company completed a carbon footprint 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 postcrush grape waste is converted to energy.
The company is looking at more large solar installations at Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville and Franciscan Estates winery in St. Helena.
Mr. 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.
He and Assemblywoman Noreen Evans mentioned pending legislation that would protect solar systems from theft.
Assemblymen Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, and Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, noted the importance of distributed power generation to reduce the need to disturb the environment with substations and transmission lines. Mr. Chesbro noted a bill that would have required utilities to get one-third of their power from renewable sources failed to pass the Legislature in the recent session.