Shine on, Finger Lakes Wineries: Wineries unveil joint solar project

Staff Writer
The Chronicle Express
Tom Kimbis of Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) presents the award to all the wineries of the Finger Lakes Region. Accepting is Suzanne Hunt of Hunt Green LLC.

Four Finger Lakes wineries proudly unveiled their revolutionary joint solar initiative Oct. 23 at Hunt Country Vineyards.

Dr. Konstantin Frank Wine Cellars, Hunt Country Vineyards, Wagner Vineyards, and Eagle Crest Vineyards have worked together to install the first large-scale solar power systems in the region that, all together, will add up to nearly half a megawatt of solar; enough energy to power hundreds of homes.

The first installation of 109KW at Hunt Country Vineyards was completed over the summer, followed by 51KW at Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars; 250KW at Wagner Vineyards, and 62KW at Eagle Crest.

Suzanne Hunt, President of Hunt Green LLC, a sustainability and energy advisory firm, and daughter of Art and Joyce Hunt of Hunt Country Vineyards, initiated the collaboration, and says the project will result in the removal of about 460 tons of CO2 emissions each year for the life of the solar systems, the equivalent of planting nearly 200 acres of trees or eliminating about 35 million vehicle miles.

Hunt pulled together colleagues in government, finance, and industry from around the state to make this dramatic shift as easy as possible for the wineries. While each winery has very different energy needs, they all share the same connection to the land as grape growers and vision for the future of the Finger Lakes. Each winery involved emphasizes its focus on sustainability – socially, environmentally, and economically.

“With the extraction, storage, and transport of fossil fuels there are always risks of leakage and accidents resulting in water, air, and soil contamination. There’s never going to be a solar spill,” said Joyce Hunt, co-owner of Hunt Country Vineyards.

“Our family has made our living for five generations by harvesting the sun’s energy to ripen our grapes,” said John Wagner, co-owner of Wagner Vineyards. “Our installation of a large-scale solar array at Wagner Vineyards is a logical step for us to take as we continue to enhance our farm winery’s sustainability,” Wagner said.

The project is not only benefiting the environment and the bottom line, it is also supporting local construction firms and electrical contractors with an estimated 5,000 man-hours for the installations, and is using American made photovoltaic solar panels and ancillary equipment.

The group worked closely with New York Green Bank and received support from NYSERDA’s NY Sun initiative. Lyons National Bank (LNB), Tompkins Trust, Farm Credit, and Five Star Bank – all Finger Lakes financial institutions – ultimately provided financing.

“These wineries are paving the way for many other local businesses to save money, become more self-reliant, and reduce pollution in order to develop and maintain a vibrant economy in the region,” says Suzanne Hunt. “Farming, tourism, and viticulture have always been tough businesses, but increasing competition, rising energy costs, and a changing climate will make them even more challenging going forward.”

Following the ribbon cutting, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) bestowed the Finger Lakes Wine Region with its prestigious Solar Champion Award – an honor bestowed upon entities or individuals who have helped strengthen solar power in America.

Tom Kimbis, SEIA’s Vice President of Executive Affairs presented the award, crediting the four wineries for turning to solar power for their vineyard operations, collectively saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs while reducing their carbon footprints.

“Going solar gets easier every day,” said Kimbis. “Prices continue to fall, people are growing more comfortable with the idea of solar power, and smart policies like the solar investment tax credit (ITC) are helping small businesses become more self-sufficient,” he said, adding,

“That’s a win-win-win for wineries, solar companies and New York. We hope the Finger Lakes can serve as a model for wineries, and other small businesses, across the state and the nation.”

“Farming and wine making require a commitment to the land that spans generations. We see solar as a smart investment in a sector that requires constant innovation,” said Suzanne Hunt. “By installing large solar power systems on our farms and wineries, we are driving environmental benefits for America, while helping to ensure the long-term economic viability of the agricultural sector which sustains us all.” she added.