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04.16.2009  
 

Greenbacks for Green Building

Lange Twins earns nearly $1 million in rebate incentives from utility

 
by Kate Lavin
 
 
Alternative text
 
The solar panel canopy at Lange Twins Winery & Vineyards absorbs energy from above and below. Sunlight that filters through the panels and bounces off the facility's metal interior can then be absorbed through the underside of the panels.
 
Acampo, Calif. -- Standing beneath a bridge that offers access to Lange Twins' expansive winemaking facility on the Lodi Wine Trail, representatives from Northern California utility PG&E handed brothers Brad and Randy Lange a check that was comically large--both in its dimensions and its amount.

PG&E executive Janice Berman addressed dozens of wine industry professionals before the big handover, hammering home the idea that with the exception of solar panels, energy-saving equipment pays for itself within two to three years, making it a good business strategy for anyone. (It takes about seven years to recoup the cost of having solar panels installed, she added.)

The Lange Twins' environmentally sound building practices, for example, earned them a rebates from PG&E totaling more than $968,000--plus tremendous savings in utilities costs.

According to numbers released by PG&E, installing a high-efficiency, water-cooled chiller saves the winery more than $13,000 in annual utility bills. The system also earned an additional incentive of $10,548 through the "savings by design" program (SBD), which provides funding for designing energy-efficient buildings. The setup, according to Randy Lange, uses glycol rather than ammonia. Ammonia is more efficient, he said, but it isn't as good for worker safety.

The chilling system is powered by eight compressors that kick on one-by-one, so that none run unnecessarily. "The compressors are the workhorses of the winery," Lange said. A variable frequency drive on air compressors nets an annual savings of nearly $15,000 (plus an SBD incentive of almost $12,000). Insulating the winery's 57 storage and fermentation tanks saves $47,904 per year in utility costs, plus an SBD incentive of $67,066.

A natural gas boiler for hot water ensures that cellar workers don't have to wait for water to heat up, thereby conserving the commodity, which is especially precious in the Central Valley.

"Every drop of water we use at the winery goes out to the vineyards," Lange said, adding that the water is purified in two nearby ponds before being used for irrigation.

When the Langes began planning the winery in 2005, they appealed San Joaquin County for permission to build a 40,000-ton facility within the next 20 years. At present, the winery is set up to accommodate half that, but the site designer's initial plans included electrical and water piping, so groundwork has literally been laid for any future expansion.

Randy Lange said that cooperation from PG&E and environmental engineers helped him and his brother identify every way in which they could become "super efficient." To put it in perspective, building decisions the Langes made created enough energy savings to power 41,300 homes for one year.

Earth Day

The presentation recognizing the Lange family's commitment to environmental business was a timely one for the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA), which held the event along with Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers.

According to CSWA, the number of energy-efficient projects at California wineries and vineyards has increased five-fold since 2005. Since then, state wineries received a combined $6.25 million in PG&E rebates. The utility, in conjunction with CSWA, holds energy-efficiency workshops specific to wineries and vineyards.

Phil Pennino, the PG&E representative who works with the Lange family on conservation issues, said that the biggest accomplishments by the Langes include their willingness to be proactive about finding alternatives to create energy efficiency, and thinking with a long-term perspective.

"While it's nice to have a short-term payback, there is a long-term payback that they're implementing," Pennino said of one of the winery's most costly ventures--the solar panel canopy that covers outdoor parts of the winemaking facility.

Ninety-four California wineries use solar energy systems, according to Wine Institute. In addition to providing shade for the workers, the solar panels the Langes chose are dual-sided. The panels absorb sunlight, but they also soak up rays that bounce off the metal surfaces of the sorting area.

According to Pennino, winery and vineyard owners looking to adopt energy-efficient practices should start by arranging an audit with PG&E. Representatives from the utility can provide metrics from which future progress can be measured, then make suggestions about how to obtain maximum efficiency.
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