HEALDSBURG — The owners and management at Michel-Schlumberger Wine Estates at 4155 Wine Creek Road pay particular attention to sustainability in the winery and vineyard, where the company has made significant strides in energy efficiency and water conservation.
“Our reservoir is filled by winter and spring rains, and provides 100 percent of our water needed for irrigating our vineyards, thus eliminating the need to divert much-needed water from our drought-depleted rivers and streams,” said Chief Financial Officer Jeff Cummings.
“Today we have a solar energy system providing 99.9 percent of our electricity needs. The only exception is a single water pump powered by a separate line. We haven’t paid a penny for power since turning on this system. Excess electricity produced by this solar array is fed back into the grid, and our invoice from PG&E showed a big credit on the first anniversary after installing the panels. For us, this is zero-sum game.”
Installed in the winter of 2015, the 218-kilowatt solar system (producing 316,000 kilowatt-hours of power per year) is the largest in Dry Creek Valley. It consists of 684 ground-mounted solar panels and three inverters, which change the direct current generated by the solar panels to the alternating current that the winery needs to run its equipment and lighting.
Over the 50-year life of the system, Michel-Schlumberger estimates it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5,008 tons of CO2 — equivalent to planting more than 200,000 trees.
Management studied the benefits of solar and could have implemented a roof-top installation, but this would not have provided enough space for the array needed to achieve its goal. Some advisors recommended placing panels on a steep slope that would have been difficult to work with. And other wineries have installed solar panels on floating rafts in ponds to save vineyard land.
“We decided to remove a third of an acre of Malbec grapes where the benefits of solar outweighed the value of the fruit. Nate Gulbransen’s Westcoast Solar Energy team used directional drilling technology to bury cable eight feet underground in its run to the winery building without disturbing nearby vines.”
The solar panels are not visible from the visitor center, but if guests take a tour, the company is proud to show off its money-saving and energy-conservation investment. Michel-Schlumberger has also converted its lights to LEDs and is thinking about placing a display with a meter in its tasting room to show guests how little energy is being used.
“We traded our electric bill to finance solar and the results more than justify our decision.”