For those in the community interested in going green, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program might spark interest. The current application window is open through Sept. 30.
The program, also called REAP, provides funding opportunities in Alaska through guaranteed loans and grants geared toward renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvement. One local business that was awarded the REAP grant and successfully implemented further green energy measures is Homer’s acclaimed winery.
Bear Creek Winery, a Green Star certified business, installed a solar power system on one of the two buildings in their bottling works facility in June 2022. The building functions as the winery’s production space and houses two freezers and a cooling system for wine undergoing fermentation, owner Louis Maurer told Homer News last Thursday.
“That (building) is definitely the largest energy consumer,” Maurer said.
The system has been in operation for approximately a full calendar year, since it came online last August. Roughly half of the power used annually for Bear Creek’s bottling works facility is provided by solar energy produced by the array.
Midnight Sun Solar, LLC installed the 44.8 kilowatt photovoltaic system last summer.
According to a press release updated Aug. 21 by Midnight Sun Solar project manager Alexander Sievers, the system has now produced over 47 megawatt hours, or approximately $12,000, worth of energy since installation.
The photovoltaic effect is the process by which electrical energy is produced by “utilizing photon energy from the sun to excite the electrons in the semiconductor photovoltaic cells producing direct current electricity,” the release states. That energy is inverted into alternating current that feeds the building loads. Excess electricity is fed back to the electric grid, which the utility meters in a process called “net metering” and credits back to consumers — one kilowatt hour towards their consumption for every kilowatt hour fed back to the grid.
Bear Creek Winery has long implemented green practices into their business model, from sourcing local fruits and berries to their bottle reuse program to a wind power generation unit that was installed at the winery’s tasting room in 2009.
“Using environmentally friendly energy inputs in our winemaking is something that the business has always been interested in,” Maurer said last Thursday.
Maurer described moving to solar power as “a good fit” for the bottling works facility.
“What I mean by that is we have more sun in the summertime, of course, than we do in the wintertime, and our primary energy use for that building is freezing and refrigerating. In the wintertime, we need less of that, so the energy curves line up really nicely in that regard,” he said.
The REAP grant funds awarded to Bear Creek Winery covered 25% of the project cost, according to the release. This year, the grant covers up to 50% of project costs for rural — defined by the USDA as populations below 50,000 — agricultural producers, small businesses, utilities and tribal organizations.
REAP grants are competitively scored and based on project feasibility, according to the release. Not all applicants will receive grant funds.
For more information on the USDA Rural Energy for America Program, visit www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/energy-programs/rural-energy-america-program-renewable-energy-systems-energy-efficiency-improvement-guaranteed-loans/ak#overview.
Further information on Bear Creek Winery’s green initiatives can be found at https://www.bearcreekwinery.com/green-initiatives.