Solar Energy and Our Community

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By Allison Quady

We recently completed our second sustainability audit at Quady Winery and are on track to receive the California Winegrowers Sustainability Association Certification again this year. We learned a lot from the process of preparing for the audit. It’s useful to take a closer look at how we are using our resources, and I can’t help but imagine the future, where the Valley could make use of its abundant resources to improve the quality of life for everyone here.

Take energy for example; we’ve had solar panels on our roof for seven years now, and this year we calculated that in 2022 we produced twice as much solar energy as we used from PG&E. The solar panels generated over 400,000 kwh of electricity in 2022 – more than we could use during the day. And because we don’t have solar storage, we sold it back to PG&E for a discount on our electric bill. Lucky for us, we are on the original net metering framework, which means that PG&E paid us almost 100% of the current price of the electricity. But due to recent changes this year in the net metering program, if we were to install any more solar panels, we would be pushed into net metering 3.0, which pays only 1-3% of the price of the energy. That would make for a huge increase in our electric bills, so we are effectively disincentivized from building any more solar infrastructure.

This interesting situation in which we find ourselves in California, with abundant solar energy production that is no longer valued like it once was, started us thinking a lot about solar storage. If we could store our energy then we could use it whenever we wanted, like in the middle of the night or on rainy days when the solar isn’t producing, or during blackouts. We wouldn’t have to buy increasingly expensive PG&E energy with its associated carbon footprint. Yet solar storage is expensive to install, over $1 million to store the amount that we would need, and we don’t have the resources to invest at the moment.

At the same time, we’ve been looking at our electricity bills closely to determine how rates are changing. We get charged different rates throughout the year, but when you look at the year as whole, we discovered our rates went up over 40% from the prior year. Even though we produce twice as much solar as we need and we sell what we don’t use, our electricity costs are rising. We realized that if rates are affecting our business, they’re also affecting others in our community. At a time when the cost of living and the cost of doing business is rising for everyone, rising energy costs make matters worse.

Yet, the Valley has an abundance of sunlight and an abundant supply of solar energy. How do we tap into that so that the whole community can use this resource and benefit? Is it possible to build solar storage not only for Quady Winery but for the community too?

After some research, I found that last year California legislators started working on community solar regulations. Depending on how this plays out, this would be a way to lower energy costs and California’s carbon footprint at the same time. Community solar is a (usually privately owned) solar panel array that is tied into the electric grid. It provides solar power continuously and stores it for community use, anyone who has an electricity bill can opt into community solar. The community solar energy is sold at a lower price than the electricity sold by the utility. My hope is that the final regulations will provide consumers with assurance that the community solar program will effectively return solar resources to taxpayers in the form of lower electricity bills. Imagine the whole community transitioning to solar power! There would be fewer power plants in the state producing power from natural gas, so you’d eliminate air pollutants created by those plants. If you had more electric vehicles on the highways, you’d be able to power them with carbon neutral solar energy. Everyone would have lower electricity bills, reliable clean energy, and be contributing to lower carbon in the environment.

California aims to be a leader in green energy, and it seems like it is well positioned to do so in the near future. Perhaps community solar done right will help to democratize and maximize the benefits of our solar energy resources for the entire community so that we can have a healthier and more prosperous future.

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