New York Wineries Going Green

State programs and local expert help wineries add solar power

by Linda Jones McKee
New roof materials are installed at Hunt Country Vineyards to prepare for a solar installation.
Branchport, N.Y.Hunt Country Vineyards, recipient of the New York Geothermal Energy Organization’s 2015 TOP JOB designation for a geothermal project that provides 100% of the winery’s heating and cooling needs, is about to install a 109kW (kilowatt) solar PV (photovoltaic) system. Fox Run Vineyards began installation of a 50kW solar power array next to the winery’s production facility in Penn Yan, N.Y., in May, and Lakewood Vineyards in Watkins Glen, N.Y., added a 47kW solar system this spring.


Other New York wineries preparing to add solar power to their facilities include Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars in Hammondsport, Wagner Vineyards in Lodi and Eagle Crest Vineyards in Conesus. And these are only a few of the state’s wineries that have installed or are planning to add solar power to their facilities.

What has inspired New York wineries to “go green”?

New York wineries are motivated to go green because it makes good business sense and because of the wine industry’s widespread commitment to environmental sustainability. Scott Osborn, owner of Fox Run Vineyards, stated, “The installation of solar power is another step for Fox Run to become more sustainable. We are a family owned company and by reducing our carbon footprint, we are creating a cleaner environment for the next generation. This is just one avenue where we continue to look at new innovations that will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.”

The answer, however, is more complex in a number of ways. Part of the shift is due to the availability of financing for clean energy projects, including existing New York state programs that help with financing renewable energy, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has shown interest in reforming New York’s energy industry and regulatory practices. Additionally, some members of the New York wine industry have actively opposed hydraulic fracturing and the storage of gas in salt caverns on the shores of Seneca Lake near Watkins Glen. (See “Drilling Concerns in the Finger Lakes” and “Can Wine and Natural Gas Coexist?”) And a significant factor is the presence of Suzanne Hunt, president of HuntGreen LLC (which provides strategic advice about energy, agriculture, transportation and the environment), who is serving as educator, facilitator and resident expert on renewable energy.

Hunt, the daughter of Art and Joyce Hunt, owners of Hunt Country Vineyards, recently moved back to the Finger Lakes from Washington, D.C. With the help of local installers and solar industry veteran Mar Kelly of District Sun, she is educating winery owners and other farm and business owners about solar power while also making a number of financing options available to those businesses. A nationally recognized expert on bio-fuels and other energy issues, Hunt told Wines & Vines, “The wine industry can’t just fight gas storage and hydro-fracking. We also have to implement the solutions. Putting in large solar arrays is a concrete way to demonstrate that the wine industry will be part of the solution, and it’s possible to do this now.”

She noted that with the high cost of electricity used by wineries and the decrease in the cost of solar equipment, it makes economic sense for many wineries to consider installing solar power. Two other financial incentives are the current 30% federal tax credit (which will expire at the end of 2016) and the availability of some funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). Two years ago Gov. Cuomo set up the New York Green Bank as a division within NYSERDA with an initial $1 billion in funding “to enable greater private investment in New York state’s growing clean energy economy by opening up financing markets and expanding availability of capital.”

Hunt is also working to get Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing approved in all counties with operating wineries. She noted that PACE “allows business owners to finance up to 100% of an energy-efficiency, water-efficiency or renewable-energy project that is repaid at a fixed rate over (up to) 20-30 years. In return for this financing, the owner agrees to put a special line item on their property taxes, which is the way in which the capital provider is repaid.”

“One of the key benefits to businesses is that your payment amount can be set at a level equal to or below the amount of money you would have been paying for your electricity bill, so the project is cash-flow positive. The other big benefit is that since PACE is a property assessment (and since property assessments are operating expenses), PACE financing is not considered debt by most folks, so it’s often preferred by businesses that are already highly leveraged, or who want to use debt for other purposes.”

“Because each county has to be involved in the administration of the program, each county has to approve it. Tompkins County already approved PACE financing, thanks to some dedicated colleagues there. I recently met with the Yates County administrator to introduce her to the New York state PACE advisor, so that he can help Yates get the approval process started. I understand from colleagues who work on PACE in other regions that it is helpful to have businesses and projects that are interested in using PACE financing to get the process moving.” Tompkins County has four wineries and Yates County has 29, according to Wines Vines Analytics; the Finger Lakes wine region currently has a total of 123 wineries.

The solar developers Hunt is working with can also offer power purchase agreements if winery owners don’t want to finance the panels.

“I’m really happy with the amount of interest wineries have in solar power,” Hunt commented. “The ultimate vision is to have a 100% renewably powered wine industry in New York, but every winery is unique, and the drive for this will have to come from the winery owners.” One next step may be to apply for a grant to help move the industry onto the path to success in reaching this goal.

Another factor that may come into play in renewable energy for the wine industry is an initiative begun by Gov. Cuomo a year ago and known as the REV (Reforming the Energy Vision) process. The New York state Public Service Commission (PSC), which is in charge of regulating utilities in New York, launched the REV initiative “to reform New York state’s energy industry and regulatory practices.” The goal, according to Hunt, is to reform how electric utilities make money and facilitate the transition to a safer, cleaner, more secure and “smart” grid powered by distributed renewable energy generation. Utilities will submit proposals in response to the PSC requirements by the end of the year.

Posted on 06.29.2015 - 15:12:13 PST
I am wondering how substantial the electric bill is for wineries in the Finger Lakes region, in kWh and $ per month.

Posted on 06.30.2015 - 19:03:25 PST
Lakewood Vineyards completed work on their 47 kW (80 panel) solar array in 2012. It has been fully operational for two and a half years and has exceeded our expectations of efficiency. Go solar!
-Benjamin Stamp
Assistant Winemaker, Lakewood Vineyards
Benjamin Stamp

Posted on 07.01.2015 - 14:31:58 PST
Bravo to Lakewood for being an early solar adopter in the Finger Lakes wine industry! In response to the other comment/question: the electric bills for wineries in the region vary substantially from winery to winery depending on a number of factors including who they buy their power from and what type of meter they have. Wineries that have a commercial meter and pay demand changes, for example, often have a harder time making the purchase of a solar PV system pencil out because - based on the current set of regs/policies - you are not able to offset demand charges with the output of your solar PV system, unless you add storage.
Suzanne Hunt