Wineries Join Forces for Solar Initiatives

Each winery involved emphasizes its focus on sustainability—socially, environmentally and economically...


Tompkins Weekly Staff via Tompkins Weekly, October 5-11, 2015

Three of the region’s most respected, multi-generational wineries, along with the nation’s oldest sacramental winery, are embracing the solar movement in the Finger Lakes.

Dr. Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars, Hunt Country Vineyards, O-Neh-Da and Eagle Crest Vineyards, and Wagner Vineyards are working together to install the first largescale solar power systems that, together, will generate nearly half a megawatt of solar; enough energy to power hundreds of homes.

The first installation of a 109KW system at Hunt Country Vineyards was completed over the summer, followed by a 51KW array at Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars, 250KW at Wagner Vineyards and 62KW at O-Neh-Da are in progress. The collaborative project will result in the removal of about 460 tons of CO2 emissions each year for the life of the solar systems, the equivalent of planting nearly 200 acres of trees or eliminating about 35 million vehicle miles.

Suzanne Hunt, president of Hunt Green LLC, a sustainability and energy advisory firm and daughter of Hunt Country owners Art and Joyce Hunt, initiated the collaboration. Hunt pulled together colleagues in government, finance and industry from around the state to make this dramatic shift as easy as possible for the wineries. This included Mar Kelly, a veteran commercial solar power developer and president of District Sun, which provided considerable technical and informational resources to get the project off the ground.

While each winery has very different energy needs, they all share the same connection to the land as grape growers and vision for the future of the Finger Lakes. Each winery involved emphasizes its focus on sustainability—socially, environmentally and economically. The project not only benefits the environment and the bottom line, it is also supports local construction firms and electrical contractors with an estimated 5,000 man-hours for the installations, and is using American-made photovoltaic solar panels and ancillary equipment.

“Our family has made our living for five generations by harvesting the sun’s energy to ripen our grapes,” said John Wagner, coowner 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.”

“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.

The group worked closely with New York Green Bank and received support from NYSERDA’s NY Sun initiative. “NY Green Bank is delighted to have played even a small role in advancing this exciting initiative by helping to organize and lead discussions among Finger Lakes wineries and local banks” said Alfred Griffin, NY Green Bank President. “We’re pleased that the local lending community is becoming comfortable with the economics of solar and are supporting the financing of solar assets for local vineyards.”

Lyons National Bank (LBN), Tompkins Trust, Farm Credit, and Five Star Bank—all Finger Lakes financial institutions—ultimately provided financing.

The goal of this initiative is to position the Finger Lakes for success in a rapidly changing business environment. These wineries are paving the way for many other local businesses to save money, become more self-reliant, and reduce pollution in order to develop and maintain a vibrant economy in the region.

“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. “We put a lot of extra effort into informing all of the relevant parties, getting support from entities like NY Green Bank, NYSERDA, and Energize NY, involving local installers and problem solving all along the way.”

Dr. Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars, Hunt Country Vineyards, O-Neh-Da and Eagle Crest Vineyards, and Wagner Vineyards are some of the longest established, multi-generational family vineyards whose dedication to quality has helped make the Finger Lakes a premiere wine region in the country.

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