Southbrook Vineyards unveils next step in energy conservation program with net metering project

A new 136 KW photovoltaic field or solar system installed by St. Catharines-based, The Violin Group (www.theviolingroup.com) was officially unveiled today.  As part of a net metering project, the largest in the Niagara-on-the-Lake region, the system consists of 8 rows, 432 panels and a 136 KW net meter, generating renewably sourced electricity.  The solar project will supply 170 Mwh, and is part of the long term vision for a deeply sustainable farm operation.  The infrastructure to link the new solar field to the electrical system was initially installed in 2007 during construction, in preparation for the development of the appropriate technology.

The first step in Southbrook’s sustainability project was an aggressive audit of overall energy consumption and identification of opportunities for substantial improvement.  Undertaken by Ontario-based engineering firm, Enviro-Stewards (www.enviro-stewards.com) with the assistance of Niagara-on-the-Lake Hydro, this initial investment identified opportunities for reductions of 41 per cent in natural gas usage and 38 per cent in electricity requirements.  Subsequently, the net reduction in electricity use is 80 per cent; the new photovoltaic field was installed with no government subsidies involved, and will ultimately pay for itself within seven to eight years.

“As practical farmers, Southbrook has always been conscious of energy conservation and committed to sustainability,” explained Bill Redelmeier, founder and co-owner, Southbrook Vineyards.  “This has been reflected in 2005 by our choice to create a LEED® Gold certified winery and hospitality building in collaboration with Jack Diamond, principal of Diamond Schmitt Architects (www.dsai.ca).  Previously, our entire operation was audited for and met Sustainable Winemaking Ontario standards, which included energy efficiency.  We’re proud to have taken these next steps, which together reduce net electrical inputs by 80 per cent.”

“If anyone could have a case for proceeding directly to renewables, it would be Southbrook,” commented Bruce Taylor, president, Enviro-Stewards.  “Furthermore, Niagara-on-the- Lake Hydro had just retained a consultant to complete an energy conservation study there which found that to further reduce electricity consumption, Southbrook would need to proceed to harder to reach fruit such as lighting and refrigeration upgrades that would save up to 5 percent with an average payback of 20 years.”  Mr. Taylor continued, “Even so, Southbrook decided to retain Enviro-Stewards to complete a shared savings based utility conservation assessment prior to completion of the design of Southbrook’s net metering solar project.  Our assessment found that with a 4 month payback period, the facility could further reduce electricity consumption by at least one third, and hence reduce the number of solar panels needed to produce their electricity needs by one third.”

“With our client having a LEED® Gold building and a biodynamic and organic vineyard, it was important to us to have as sustainable an approach as possible while building this project,” added Mike Violin, founder, The Violin Group.  “In order to allow the septic bed, soil and soil chemistry to remain undisturbed, the system was ground mounted; all concrete ballast foundations were locally sourced and utilized recycled materials in place of some aggregate.  With the net meter complete, Southbrook is quite simply, a green masterpiece.”

 There are three pillars of sustainability:  economic, environmental and social components in reaching a sustainable goal.  In order to underscore their commitment to social responsibility, The Violin Group and Southbrook partnered to host a “Community Build Day” in April.  The event created a dynamic learning opportunity to benefit students within the Niagara Region, including the Niagara Catholic School Board and Brock University, and the Niagara Sustainability Initiative.  The Build Day initiative allowed the participants a hands-on, networking opportunity to foster a collaborative, inclusive environment necessary to generate real intrinsic change in their community.

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