By Laurie Wachter
With Public Safety Power Shut Off (PSPS) now part of the fire season in Wine Country, power outages are “the reality we’re living with,” agrees Don Mortenson of Anderson Valley’s Roederer Estate. “We started scrambling in early 2019 when PG&E changed their policy. They let us know in no uncertain terms that they would shut off the power. It doesn’t take a fire for them to decide to turn it off, just the threat of conditions being ripe for it. Our valley is close to the coast and gets morning cloud cover, so we tend to have flare-ups instead of big fires. Even so, we lost power last year. During harvest, we can’t be out of power for four or five days.”
What wineries need for power protection
To prepare for multi-day outages, a winery needs a “gen set” — a generator and switchgear to integrate it into the power systems. They can purchase a stationary back-up generator to keep in place all year but, because the expense is substantial, many choose to rent a generator, and some invest in a docking station. Mortenson worked with Brian Benson at CD & Power to install three transfer switches for all three of their properties in the Anderson Valley.
“Don put in a docking station, so it was a quick and easy installation,” says Benson, “you just plug the rental generator into the docking station after shutting off the main power. Then, when the power comes back on, you turn the generator off and flip the switch.”
That switch can be a manual one (MTS) or automatic (ATS). The stationary system requires an ATS. Another option is to do without a switch and have an electrician hook up a generator each time it’s needed. “The cost of each transfer switch was $12,000,” says Mortenson, “and generators cost a lot more. It’s too expensive to buy switches and generators at one time, so we’re working with rental generators.”
Benson explains how the switches work, “Think of the capital letter Y. The utility’s power comes in on the upper left arm, while the generator hooks to the right arm. If power goes off, an ATS senses it and automatically turns on the generator. When the power comes back on, it waits a minute or two and then reverses the process – turning off the generator and turning on the utility power. The MTS on a docking station you switch on and off yourself.”
Parke Hafner of Alexander Valley’s Hafner Winery also chose to rent. “Last year, as the Kincaid fire closed in on our winery, we were able to borrow a generator from our neighbors. I’m not comfortable with doing that again. So, I looked into purchasing a generator, but the cost was going to be $50,000 or $60,000. Instead, we’ve lined up a generator starting in August through the harvest or until the rain comes. The cost is $2800 a month, and we bought a manual transfer switch for $14,000.”
“We both rent and sell generators,” says Daniel Williams of Peterson Power. “One isn’t better than another; it just depends on a winery’s financial situation.”
“The size of the generator mirrors the size of the winery, and what is essential to power,” explains Benson. “Some choose a 25Kw to power a pump; others reserve up to 750Kw so they can run refrigeration. Roederer chose smaller ones — 100Kw to 250Kw. One winery reserved a generator for a fire pump, but most are to keep product refrigerated or process wine. Benzinger got a 400Kw generator, and although you can get up to 1MHw or 1¼MHw, the top of what we see wineries requesting is 500Kw.”
Fuel options include diesel, natural gas and propane, and each has its benefits and drawbacks. The choice depends on location and access to a fuel service that the winery can quickly access when needed. “Solar wouldn’t be an option for us,“ adds Mortenson, “because of the amount of power we need for our cooling systems. We’re still debating whether to use propane or diesel generators.”
A Sense of Urgency
“When PG&E changed their approach to fires by doing rolling preparatory blackouts, we saw a surge in inquiries and rentals,” says Williams.
Benson agrees, “Wineries were scrambling last year, and our phones have been ringing off the hook. With a PSPS, everyone, including grocery stores, hospitals, is looking for backup power.”
“This a huge challenge for our wineries,” says Tawny Tesconi, Executive Director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, “because the amount of power needed to run a winery is significant. These generators can be the size of semi-trailers. Not even half of the wineries are able to rent generators, both because of the high cost and a shortage of generators to rent. That means they can’t operate or rely on access to another winery to process their grapes.”
Williams adds, “PG&E is saying they’re going to cut off power at some point. For a winery, either you don’t do business, or you make an investment in a back-up power system. The fire season over the last 2 to 3 years has convinced a lot of people that this is extremely serious, and they need to prepare for it. There’s been a shift in perception from thinking of a back-up generator as a luxury to having a reliable, back-up power that isn’t tied to the power company as a business essential.”
“Right now,” says Benson, “Last year we sold out during the fires. We want to ensure power back up to all our customers, so our retention program guarantees the customer will have a gen when they need it. They rent at a low price until they know they’re going to turn off power and we take the gen to them.”
“The power shutoff is detrimental to all parts of agriculture,” says Tesconi. “But for wineries, it comes during harvest. So people have their grapes ready, and in ag, we can’t put our products back on the shelf. The grapes must be crushed!”
Companies Offering Power Solutions
CD & Power is a certified Woman-Owned Business, with License #757162, A, C-10. We sell, rent, and maintain backup generators for government agencies, grocery stores, office buildings, hospitals, construction sites, special events, disaster relief, planned power outages, and more!
Atlas Copco is a leading global provider of compressed air solutions. We are committed to sustainable productivity with a full line of air compressors, blowers, vacuums, gas generators, and other quality air solutions. With multiple locations across the United States, Atlas Copco has provided cutting edge equipment for businesses and industry for nearly 145 years with a focus on productivity, efficiency, safety, and ergonomics.
Blue Star Gas is enjoying its 80th successful year in business under the management of the third generation of the Stewart family. Paul Stewart initially purchased the business in 1945 and was joined by Bill Stewart in 1954 and Jeff Stewart in 1996. Both Bill and Jeff are active participants in the full-service propane distribution business today.
SolarCraft is the best choice among solar energy companies in Marin, Sonoma, and Napa counties and throughout California, with over 35 years providing renewable energy with photovoltaic electric solar power, solar pool heater installation and energy storage/battery solutions. As the most trusted name in solar electric and solar thermal systems for both commercial and residential applications, SolarCraft has over three decades of experience designing, installing and maintaining thousands of thermal and electric solar energy systems in residential and commercial facilities.
Pure Power Solutions is a fully licensed, bonded, and insured solar contractor based in Sonoma County, California. We have over 20 years of experience in providing renewable energy solutions in Northern California.