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More than 160 photovoltaic panels rest on the rooftop of Powers Winery, generating about 20 percent of the winery’s electricity needs.

More than 160 photovoltaic panels rest on the rooftop of Powers Winery, generating about 20 percent of the winery’s electricity needs.

Photo by Melissa Hansen

Sustainability touches nearly all operations at Badger Mountain Vineyard and Powers Winery, from using solar-generated energy to power the winery and tasting room to making their own biodiesel to fuel the vineyard tractors.

The first solar project was installed in 2009 at the Kennewick, Washington, vineyard and winery to power its tasting room and office. Last September, Powers Winery installed the largest solar array in eastern Washington’s wine industry.

The new project, with more than 160 photovoltaic panels covering 2,200 feet, will generate more than 41,000 kilowatt-hours per year, enough to supply nearly 20 percent of the winery’s electrical needs. Each panel has a microconverter that can be watched in real time online to see how much electricity each individual panel is generating. When electricity is not needed at the winery, it can be sold back to the grid.

It’s often said there is little incentive to switch to alternative energy in eastern Washington because of the region’s relatively inexpensive electricity that’s generated by hydropower. “But it does pencil out,” said Bill Powers, one of the owners of Badger Mountain Vineyard and Powers Winery.

Powers said that their most recent solar project cost about $200,000. After a 30 percent tax credit and $50,000 renewable energy grant, the project costs were reduced to $90,000, he said. Based on Powers’s calculations, the system will be paid off in two years. Without the grant, he said the pay-off period would be seven years.

“It is cost effective, and generating our own power makes us feel like we’re doing something good for the environment,” he said.

Another example of their sustainability efforts includes production of biodiesel from discarded restaurant cooking oil to power winery vehicles and tractors. Since 2006, Powers and his son Greg have converted used cooking oil to biodiesel to use in farm and winery vehicles. Until recently, the oil was free for pickup from local restaurants. They built a special winch on a flatbed truck to pick up and handle the 55-gallon drums of oil, relieving restaurants of their disposal problem on a weekly basis.

“Nowadays, we’re having more trouble sourcing the oil, and we’ll probably have to start buying it from the restaurants because a lot more people are making biodiesel,” Bill said, adding that the conversion process requires methanol but is quite simple. “When the oil is free, it costs us about $1.10 per gallon to make the biodiesel. If we have to buy the oil, it’ll probably add a dollar per gallon to the cost.”

They make biodiesel in 80-gallon batches, and annually make about 1,600 gallons, not quite enough to completely power their vineyard vehicles for the entire year.