Winery cuts electrical use by 80 per cent

July 13, 2017 - Penny Coles, Niagara Advance

Bill Redelmeier has been building a reputation for environmental stewardship since Southbrook Vineyards opened in Niagara-on-the-Lake almost a decade ago.

Southbrook already holds the designation of being the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold-level winery in Canada, and its vineyards are certified organic and biodynamic - even the sheep, who roam through the rows of vines eating weeds and bugs, are fed organically-grown hay.

But the winery owner has recently taken a huge step forward in energy conservation with two projects that have resulted in a net reduction in the company’s electricity use of 80 per cent.

Behind the Niagara Stone Road winery, best known locally for award-winning wines and the long lavender wall that runs parallel to the vineyards, sits a newly-constructed large block of solar panels.

They are part of a net metering project which uses 432 solar panels to produce electricity tied to the grid. The winery uses what it needs and what it doesn’t need is redistributed, creating a credit for Southbrook for the cold winter nights when it requires more than it produces.

“This is good for all of us, and good for society,” said Redelmeier.

With a large chunk of the province’s energy coming from nuclear power that is produced around the clock, he says, “Ontario is selling excess power to the U.S. at night. We’ll be using that excess power. It’s a win-win situation.”

Southbrook paid about $250,000 for the solar panels, installed with no government subsidies, and the project will pay for itself within about seven years, he said.

But operating on his philosophy that “it’s way better to not use something in the first place than to create more generating power,” the solar project that was unveiled at the winery Thursday was only part of the story. Redelmeier said he decided he should look at overall energy consumption first to see if there were opportunities for improvement. That became another step in Southbrook’s sustainability project, working with an Ontario-based engineering firm, Enviro-Stewards, and NOTL Hydro to reduce the winery’s use of electricity and natural gas.

With those steps taken combined with the solar project, “we’re proud to reduce net electrical consumption by 80 per cent,” he said.

The winery’s consumption was 360,000 kilowatt/hours per year in what was already an energy-efficient building before the start of the two projects, and Redelmeier says he hopes to get down to 60,000 kWh per year.

His motivation for playing a leadership role in environmental issues stems partly from being identified as one of the baby-boomer generation who have made such a mess of the environment, he said, and from listening to his kids complain about the damage.

“I’m trying to get ahead and fix what’s been done. I don’t want to leave it for the next generation.”

The initial decision to go organic was because it was “the proper thing to do,” and the practices that earned the biodynamic designation “were about making better wine,” he said.

The recent projects to conserve energy “make good business sense and they’re the right thing to do. We want to provide an example of what’s possible.”