Lodi, California Winery to Be Solar-Powered

Since grapevines are solar-powered, The Lucas Winery should be no less, owner David Lucas concluded.

LODI, Calif. — Since grapevines are solar-powered, The Lucas Winery should be no less, owner David Lucas concluded.

As of this week it will be, with a business investment of $166,000, about half of which he will recoup through rebates over five years.

Even though it is a bottom-line issue for the winery, which like many small operations is fighting to compete and survive over the long haul, it's more than that to Lucas He says it's about social responsibility and doing your part to try to protect the environment, he said. Using less power lowers the need for power plants, which means less pollution, which is better for the environment, especially the ocean.

So ultimately, it's about better surfing, laughed Lucas, Los Angeles-born and raised and still an avid surfer at age 62.

"The ocean is the canary for the environment," he said.


The basic concept here is to install a big enough system to produce enough power on sunny days to cover business needs, plus excess power that feeds back into the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. power grid. In that case, the dials on the power meter are spinning backward.

The utility doesn't pay the solar-power system owner for that excess power, though it does keep a tally, giving the owner a credit for later power use, say at night or on cloudy days, when solar-panel systems can't run at capacity.

Lucas is aiming for a system where the excess power credits will basically cover the power costs for his 3,000-square-foot winery, tasting room and casks room by year's end.

In the case of The Lucas Winery, the aim is to cut the power bill from $6,000 to $8,000 each year to about $30 to $40.

There might even be a bit of a marketing niche to help with sales, perhaps enticing people with a green bent to buy his wines over others, he thinks.

"I know it sounds like a bumper sticker," he said, "but it came down to just being the right thing to do."

Lucas isn't the only greenie in the local wine grape and vintner network.

Several growers have tapped the sun's power, including the head of the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission. Mark Chandler, the commission's executive director, last spring installed a solar system to power the water pump at his 40-acre Lockeford vineyard.

As a result, his power bill dropped from $3,000 a year to $40 or $50, and so far, the system has run great, he said.

"More people aren't doing it, because it is expensive," Chandler said.

"Mine cost $50,000."

But he's getting about $20,000 in tax credits and figures his power savings will pay for the system in about seven years. That's on a system guaranteed for 20 years, Chandler said, "so it's very worthwhile."

Renewable Technologies Inc., a 10-year-old Sutter Creek startup, is installing the system at The Lucas Winery.

Company founder and president Darryl Conklin said the solar-power industry has been growing in leaps. His own business has doubled year to year in the past few years, he said.

It's gone from an enterprise operating "outside my bedroom door," he said, to a multimillion-dollar company with 43 employees, including seven engineers and a 12,500-square-foot warehouse in Sutter Creek.

"It's the gift of the energy crisis," he said. "Prior to that, people weren't sure how you could turn sunshine into electricity. ... In 2004, this thing just ripped open."

PG&E administers a rebate program for businesses that invest in renewable energy systems, including wind turbines and photovoltaic, or PV, systems, popularly known as solar-panel power.

The Self Generation Incentive Program was created in the summer of 2002 out of the storm of California's electricity crisis when the state Public Utility Commission ordered utilities to offer incentives for investments in renewable energy sources.

PG&E spokeswoman Emily Barnett said the utility offers businesses cash rebates covering up to half the cost of a PV system. Such a system would have to be in the 30-kilowatt-hour to 1.5-megawatt-hour range.

Since June 2002, the utility has paid out more than $45 million in rebates for PV systems installed by businesses. In San Joaquin County, $1.2 million in rebates have been applied to five projects, she said.

Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News