Dana Merrill owns and operates the Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery in sunny California. Last July, he received word that his solar panel project at the winery had been selected to receive a grant. The funds would come from the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Pomar Junction is one of 450 projects nationwide to be supported by the program. It helps agricultural producers and rural small businesses reduce energy consumption and costs. And the ultimate goal is to use renewable energy technologies in their operation.
Merrill says the decision to go solar was a simple one for him. He had seen how his son, Matt Merrill, (who is also the winery’s General Manager) slashed his home electricity bills with solar energy.
“Matt was the first to install solar panels at home,” he recalled. “At my house, I had been paying something like four-hundred to eight-hundred dollars per month for five acres’ worth of electricity. But after going solar, my bill is now five dollars a month. I knew that if I could save that much at home, it only made sense to go solar on a bigger scale at the winery, too. We have now had a year’s worth of electricity at our new facility so we now know exactly how much solar electricity we need to generate to offset the wineries usage.”
Merrill and the Pomar Junction team hired REC Solar to install the panels. The company then suggested that the winery apply for REAP funds.
“REC Solar does very, very nice work, and is extremely knowledgeable about funds available to support businesses looking to go solar,” said Merrill.
Energy efficiency was already top of mind at Pomar Junction. It’s biggest energy cost comes from running the chiller that keeps the warehouses cool. The warehouses are where the wine and barrels are stored. In fact, those critical buildings had already been outfitted with a passive cooling system wherein louvers at the top and base of the building were automated to open and circulate cool air once the temperature dropped below 65.
“The passive cooling system covered about sixty percent of our cooling needs at the time,” Merrill said. “But in really hot weather, it could cost up to twenty-five-hundred dollars more per month to keep the buildings at a reasonable temperature for wine storage.”
By tapping into the grid, the company banks solar energy during cooler months and then spends that credit on energy throughout the hotter months. Merrill and the Pomar Junction team expect to save thousands and thousands of dollars over the course of the year.
The newly-installed solar panels lie out of view atop two barrel stores on the winery property. They are just one more measure that Pomar Junction has taken in pursuing sustainability and efficiency.