King Estate, the largest winery in Oregon, already harvests grapes and other fruits and vegetables on its 1,033-acre spread southwest of Eugene.
In the next couple of months, it also will begin harvesting the sun.
Construction has begun at King Estate on a $5 million to $6 million solar power system — the largest such system at a winery in the Northwest.
Unlike the rooftop systems that have been installed in recent years at various Lane County businesses, this will be a solar farm on 4 acres. Its 4,144 solar panels have the potential to generate up to 973.84 kilowatts of electricity — enough to power 100 homes for a year, according to federal Environmental Protection Agency estimates.
Creating energy through these solar panels instead of through other, more polluting means could eliminate more than 38 million pounds of carbon dioxide over the next 25 years. That’s an amount roughly equal to the annual greenhouse emissions from 3,381 passenger cars, or 1.9 million gallons of gasoline, using EPA estimates.
Ed King, CEO and co-founder of King Estate, calls the large-scale solar system, “a natural progression for us,” — the next step in the winery’s commitment to sustainable agriculture and environmentally conscious business practices.
King Estate’s entire 1,033-acre estate is certified organic, and it is home to the world’s largest contiguous organic vineyard, winery officials said.
King Estate provides the land for the solar farm and maintains the solar installation. But it doesn’t own the system, and it isn’t in the business of selling electricity, King said.
Other project team members include Advanced Energy Systems, the Eugene developer of the project; SolarCity, of San Mateo, Calif., which provided financing and other support; and Lane Electric Co-op, the utility partner.
An Oregon Business Energy Tax Credit will finance roughly half of the $5 million to $6 million total project costs, said Rob LaVigne, SolarCity’s regional director in Oregon.
That was key to the project, he said.
“Without question, it wouldn’t have happened without it,” LaVigne said.
King Estate itself receives no economic benefit from the tax credits, King said.
“We didn’t get anything special out of it other than the opportunity to do a little pioneering,” he said.
The electricity generated by the solar panels at King Estate will go back to the grid, and King Estate will buy electricity from Lane Electric at the same rate as before, King said.
“We see it as an opportunity to keep solar moving and keep people thinking about the solar option and the fact that we’re eventually going to have to find other ways to power our civilization,” he said.
King said the winery began working on the solar project in September 2006, so it has been years in the making.
“It’s why in the solar business they call it the solar coaster,” he said.
But in the next couple of months, the winery’s solar farm should be supplying electricity to the grid, King said.
Rick Crinklaw, general manager for Lane Electric, said energy generated from the panels at King Estate will supply “a big part of Lane Electric’s renewable energy portfolio. By 2025, at least 5 percent of Lane Electric’s total sales must be from renewable resources under the Renewable Portfolio Standard in state law, he said.