Energy Co-ops Helping Breweries

From A to Z– ale to zinfandel.

How energy co-ops are helping link microbreweries and wineries into the smarter grid.

Many a toast is being made with beverages produced using electric cooperative power. Breweries, wineries, and distilleries across the nation are co-op members, and without that power, some of our favorite libations would be nothing more than hops, grapes, or grains. Electric co-ops play a variety of roles for these unique commercial members, from energy efficiency resource to green energy facilitator to agribusiness partner.  So how are energy co-ops helping breweries and vineyards?

Microbreweries are energy-intensive businesses. The brewing process alone uses a vast amount of power, and then there’s bottling and cold storage.

“The good news is, anytime you have processes like this, there are a lot of great opportunities for energy efficiency,” says Brian Sloboda, senior program manager at CRN. They’re not really going to pay attention to a lot of energy processes.

For starters, microbreweries can do something a lot of industries only wish they could do: “These guys can really harness their waste heat,” Sloboda says.

Spray condensers or heat exchangers can recover up to 60 percent of the energy needed to boil wort, the sweet liquid drained from mash and fermented to make beer. And 85 percent of the heat needed to warm water for a keg-washer system can also be recovered, the E Source report states.

Co-ops should also make sure the microbrewery’s refrigeration is properly tuned.

“A single-degree difference in temperature can result in a couple of percent savings on your energy bill,” Sloboda says. You have a lot of space you’re trying to cool. Getting everything finely tuned will save a tremendous amount of energy.”.

Beer Lover’s paradise.

For fans of microbrews, La Plata Electric Association’s southwest Colorado territory is the place to be. It’s been dubbed “The Napa Valley of Craft Beer.”.

3“Right now, I can go to the smallest towns in Colorado– I mean, populations less than 2,000– and they’ve got a brewery,” says Ray Pierotti, project specialist at Durango-based LPEA, which serves nine breweries: six in Durango and three in Pagosa Springs.

“This is all new kilowatts that we didn’t have 15, 20 years ago,” Pierotti says. “it’s rarely just a brewery. There’s often a restaurant associated with it.”.

One thing that’s wildly popular in La Plata’s territory is green beer, though not the kind you see on St. Patrick’s Day. In 2007, a consortium of four Durango brewers known as The Bootleggers Society began buying green power from La Plata.

“Among the four of us, we brew about 15,000 barrels of beer per year,” said Brian McEachron, co-founder of Steamworks Brewing Co., at the time. “Utilizing electricity from a renewable resource, such as wind, is just the right thing to do.”.

It certainly wasn’t a cheap thing to do.

“That was back when green power was expensive. We’re talking about $1.25 to $1.75 for a 100-kilowatt block. Now they give it away, 10 cents a block,” Pierotti says.

“It was costing them thousands of dollars a year to be part of this and to say their breweries were powered by wind,” he says. “That was a good first step, to have that kind of commitment to conservation.”.

Carver Brewing Co. in Durango put solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on its roof to heat a 1,000-gallon tank. “It provides 80 percent of their hot water for their restaurant and brewery,” Pierotti says. “They saved a ton of energy by taking that initiative.”.

Three of the four main breweries La Plata serves have also upgraded their lighting, which Pierotti calls the correct first step to improving energy efficiency. “Even if they do put in solar, they’re going to use less,” he says. In the last four to five years, the co-op has given those breweries eight different lighting rebates.

La Plata conducts annual reviews with its brewers “to see where they are, what their consumption is, what their increase or decrease is over the previous year, and what we can do to help them reduce their energy consumption and save money,” Pierotti says. It’s a chance for the co-op to talk about issues including lighting, refrigeration, and green power.

“It’s having the relationship with them,” he says. “It’s the element that makes everything happen. Breweries really like us.”.

Green grapes, green power.

CRN’s Sloboda called micro- breweries, distilleries, and wineries “the perfect businesses to do renewable energy.”.

“You can use the fact that you’re using wind or solar as a marketing advantage. When you’re advertising your wine tastings, you can also say, ‘While you’re here tasting your wine, look at how we’re using energy from our PV panels right here in our vineyard,'” Sloboda says.

“You need to market yourself, and using renewable energy is a way to show that you’re different from your competition. When customers are picking a winery to visit, that might be the thing that distinguishes your pinot noir from the guy two miles away.”.

At least three of the nearly 20 wineries served by Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative (NOVEC) have solar panels.

“Some of them have chosen to install solar, and that falls under a rider we have for net metering. They get credit for anything they send back into the grid against what they use,” says Clare Bargerstock, manager of system metering at Manassas-based NOVEC. “Once they get their system installed, we deal with the requirements they need to meet so that we can interconnect them to the grid and help them through that process.”.

NOVEC is happy to work with members who want to use renewable energy. “We provide information to help them make an informed decision about the costs and benefits of using renewables,” Bargerstock says.

For those wineries that have solar panels and are a stone’s throw from the nation’s capital, “they’re doing it, I’m sure, for community value, as well,” he says.

Helping Kentucky bourbon make its mark.

It’s a familiar item on liquor store shelves in much of the world. As huge as Maker’s Mark is, the whisky giant isn’t Inter-County Energy’s biggest commercial member.

“But that may change over the next few years because they’re looking to expand more,” says Dan Hitchcock, vice president of member services at the Danville, Ky.-based co-op. “They’re in the process now of doing a huge expansion– adding more production, more buildings– which is going to move them up the list size-wise.”.

Maker’s Mark, based in nearby Loretto, Ky., says its capacity to produce bourbon, which is experiencing a global surge in popularity, will increase dramatically.

While Maker’s Mark is currently the co-op’s fifth-largest commercial account, “in another two, two-and-a-half years, they’re probably going to be either our second- or third-largest consumer of electricity,” Hitchcock says.

New buildings already include upgraded lighting and other efficiency features, so the distillery’s work with the co-op generally focuses on improving older buildings.

When they call and say they’re going to do or do an extension something with a building, he’s the first guy on the scene,” Hitchcock says. By that time, Maker’s Mark is already looking at ways to improve energy efficiency and will ask the co-op about things like lighting upgrade rebates or different rate schedules.

“We have performed some audits for them. It’s one of the services we offer,” he says, noting that the co-op has done a lighting audit in the past to give the distillery an idea of what it could save by upgrading.

As big as Maker’s Mark is, the company is low maintenance for the co-op.

“They contact me when they need me,” Hitchcock says. “I stay in contact with them, but I’ve learned through the years you don’t want to bother them too much.”.

Inter-County also serves the smaller Limestone Branch Distillery in Lebanon, Ky., and a third distillery is setting up shop in the co-op’s service territory. CRN’s Sloboda encouraged co-ops to make a point of reaching out to startup breweries, distilleries, and wineries.

“Many larger companies have dedicated resources to manage the company’s energy use. They often do not need the advice of their local utility,” Sloboda says.

Cheers to the G&T.

1While distribution co-ops may be the folks beverage producers and other commercial members are used to working with, generation and transmission co-ops (G&T s) have a role to play, as Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC) discovered.

Over the past year and a half, Glen Allen, Va.-based ODEC and its member co-ops have co-hosted Farm Energy Efficiency Workshops. The co-ops work with a collaborative group including USDA Rural Development, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, James Madison University, and others.

“Each workshop typically targets a specific agribusiness sector with presentations on best practices and new and emerging technologies to bring their operations to a more energy-efficient level,” says Erin Puryear, ODEC’s manager of member services and energy innovation planning. The second part of the workshop walks farmers through the funding opportunities from Rural Development and NRCS and the steps they need to take to access that funding.

ODEC was looking at its different agribusiness sectors, and someone suggested the vineyards would be a good sector to hold a workshop for, Puryear says. Truth be told, it hadn’t occurred to her, but as she thought about what’s involved in producing wine, it made sense.

After hosting workshops for swine producers, dairy farmers, poultry farmers, and tobacco farmers, ODEC and the Virginia Wine Association were planning the first workshop for wineries in 2015. The wine association has “a huge outreach to the winery community,” Puryear says, adding that workshop organizers have found it’s advantageous to work with each industry’s trade association.

For each workshop, organizers bring in what Puryear called “an industry guru” who knows the business like the back of his or her hand. An Iowa State University expert conducted the pork program, while a poultry workshop is handled by an expert from Mississippi State University.

“We’re just trying to reach as many farmers in the agribusiness community as we can.”.

“The good news is, anytime you have processes like this, there are a lot of great opportunities for energy efficiency,” says Brian Sloboda, senior program manager at CRN.”A single-degree difference in temperature can result in a couple of percent savings on your energy bill,” Sloboda says. “Even if they do put in solar, they’re going to use less,” he says. They get credit for anything they send back into the grid against what they use,” says Clare Bargerstock, manager of system metering at Manassas-based NOVEC. When they call and say they’re going to do or do an extension something with a building, he’s the first guy on the scene,” Hitchcock says.

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