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Local group builds largest winery solar system at Fetzer Vineyards

Fetzer Vineyards will announce today it will become the largest solar energy vineyard in the nation.

The move by Fetzer's winery, located in Hopland, Calif. (just north of the SF Bay Area, in Mendocino County) is significant because it is the first of about major 30 solar projects to be financed by SF-based MMA Renewable Ventures, a group that recently announced a $100 million fund for such deals. This continues this encouraging roll we are on here in the Bay Area to push alternative energy. It is being installed by Berkeley's Powerlight, a venture-backed company which has quietly become one of the world's largest solar installers.

This is slightly off-topic for SiliconBeat, because there is no earth-shattering technology here. We mention it rather as an example of the good stuff that can happen here iwhen you mix best intentions with smart regional financing and pragmatic business sense. The 901kW photovoltaic solar panel system will be placed on the roofs of the bottling facility and Red Wine Barrel Room at FetzerĺŐs winery in Hopland, in Mendocino County.

It will overtake Rodney Strong Vineyards, of Sonoma, which has a 766kW solar electric system at its winery in Healdsburg.

The winery's goal wasn't driven by the desire to become the biggest, said Susanne Zechiel, Fetzer's manager of facility resources for its California wine group. Rather, the winery decided six years ago to use "100 percent green electricity," and wanted to ensure it had necessary resources when its existing power contract runs out over the next few years.

The solar system will be ready to use in October, she said, and it is being built and financed in partnership with several groups, including contractor 3 Phases Energy, MMA Renewable Ventures and PowerLight.

Zechiel said the move to green electricity is driven by a number of considerations, including a desire to help reduce global warming and straight-forward business sense. Under the contract terms, Fetzer will obtain its energy at rate of 10 percent lower than the price PG&E would demand. Moreover, the solar panels will offer the most energy during the summer between noon
and 6pm, precisely the hours the winery will be in harvest and need the most power. That's also a time when PG&E's prices are highest. "The benefit to Fetzer is on so many different levels," she said.

The system will generate 1.1 million kW hours of electricity annually. The installation will supply 80 percent of the bottling plant's electricity needs, or about a third of the winery's entire power needs, she said.

Environmentally, it will offset more than 960,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the equivalent of taking approximately 80 cars off the road for a year or planting 130 acres of trees, the company said in statement.

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