Solar photovoltaic energy systems benefit by having few if any moving parts. They are about as plug and play as you can get. But when it comes to financing, they can seem as complex as a nuclear power plant.
Take the 1.134 MW DC solar energy system at Castle Rock Vineyards, in the heart of California's Central Valley. Opened in October, the system sits on 4 acres next to a cold storage building that is part of the table grape producer's business. Castle Rock is a major supplier of table grapes to a number of European grocery retailers. These retailers, in turn, have goals when it comes to greening their own supply chains. Castle Rock had already completed lighting retrofits and saw a renewable energy system as the logical next step in enhancing its sustainable profile.
But while the goals and the technology were simple enough, the vineyard's financial expert and system integrator REC Solar had to make the numbers work.
There were rebate incentives available from local utility Southern California Edison, time-of-use rate schedules and a new renewable energy tariff to consider. Then there were land use and property tax implications that had to be weighed under the Williamson Act, part of the California Land Conservation Act of 1965. Had a property tax waiver not been obtained for the system, project economics could have been adversely affected, said Ryan Park, director of business director for REC.
Similar solar energy systems could be installed at agricultural sites elsewhere in California. For example, project developers installed a 1 MW system at the adjacent VBZ vineyard, which produces table grapes for Wal-Mart stores, among other customers. Outside of California, proper net metering rules need to be in place for similar initiatives to make economic sense in other parts of the country.