The largest solar installation on a winery in the United States has just come online at Beringer Vineyards in St. Helena, Calif.
The system produces about 21 percent of the huge Napa Valley winery’s energy needs. That’s startling enough. But then consider that the installation of the solar panels didn’t cost Beringer’s parent company, Foster’s Wine Estate Americas, a single penny.
Perpetual Energy Systems — a financier and developer of solar-powered energy systems — owns the solar panels and paid for the installation. Laurance Friedman, co-chair of Perpetual Energy Systems, said Foster’s is “now buying electricity from me.”
Beringer pays Perpetual Energy about 90 percent of whatever PG&E is charging its customers for similar supplies at a given time. Beringer has a 25-year deal to buy the electricity from PES, which is based in Woodland Hills, Calif., and Harrison, N.Y.
Beringer’s 1,341,200 watt DC solar energy system came online Jan. 8. Some 6,104 solar panels were installed on three buildings, taking up 140,000 square feet. Foster’s, which owns Beringer Vineyards, decided to simultaneously install solar energy systems at three other wineries it owns — Etude and Stags’ Leap Winery in Napa County, and Asti in Sonoma County.
Collectively, the four installations will generate 3.85 million kilowatt hours of energy annually, according to Foster’s spokeswoman Allison Simpson. PES financed all four projects for Foster’s and estimated the total price tag was $30 million.
Simpson said Foster’s decided to lease back the energy rather that sink its own capital into the solar installations. “The cost to put in something like this is a significant capital investment,” she said. “As a company, Foster’s chose to invest its capital in other ways. This is a great way to keep that balance and still do the right thing for the environment.”
PES then used contractors Bright Group Inc. and Stellar Energy Solutions for the planning and construction of the solar projects.
“The installation of a large project like this is no more difficult than a small one; however, the steepness of the roof and roofing materials can add difficulty, no matter the size,” said Chris Phipps, director of marketing for Stellar. Phipps said the roofs at Beringer were relatively flat, so “it was a fairly easy installation.”
PES used tax credits and conventional financing to finance the system. What else does PES get out of the arrangement?
Friedman said the company gets tax credits, renewable energy certificates and carbon credits. He acknowledged there currently is no market for carbon credits, but said that market will sprout. It already exists in Europe. He said the payback on the capital investment is about 25 years.
“We’ll make money on this,” he said. “It will just take a long time. This is an example of Foster’s recognizing it is possible to be good stewards without having to pay extra money. They are doing the right thing, and I am going to make money. Everybody wins.”
Simpson said Foster’s is looking into installing solar systems at two more wineries within the next six months.