Idaho Backroads: Hells Canyon Winery turns to solar power

Posted at 6:10 PM, Oct 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-17 20:10:03-04

Today's weather is not unusual for southern Idaho. We average more than 200 days of sunshine every year and more Idahoans are taking advantage of that free source of energy to help the environment and save money, like a soon-to-be solar-powered winery.

"In terms of wind and solar replacing hydro-electric and coal, I think you're on a 10-year glide path to where this technology is going to be 99 percent of the new energy infrastructure in the United States," said Hadley Robertson with Hells Canyon Winery. 

What better place to take advantage of the sun's energy than a place that is named for the abundance of the sun that shines on it?

"We decided to go solar here because we are on the sunny slope," Robertson said. "This region is known as Sunny Slope, and we have been farming here since 1980."

That's why Hells Canyon Winery hired a company called RevoluSun to install solar panels that will eventually eliminate the winery's reliance on electricity from Idaho Power. The panels will provide power to every part of the business from farming to processing the grapes that make this Idaho's wine region.

The operators of Hells Canyon Winery say the solar panels will pay for themselves in less than a decade at the rate of around $6,000/year and solar advocates say every project like this takes that much pressure off less environmentally friendly sources of energy.

"It's kind of the right thing to do," said Tuck Miller with RevoluSun. "People don't realize how much of Idaho's power comes from coal-fired plants. We're under the assumption it all comes from hydropower. That's not true. Lot's of people have serious concerns about burning coal in this day and age." 

Many also have concerns about the impact of hydropower, which fish advocates say has driven Idaho's salmon and steelhead to the brink of extinction. The bottlers of Hells Canyon Wine and its subsidiaries say using the sun's power will not only save them money but will also take some of the pressure off the water system.

"We benefit from the Snake River," said Robertson. "That's one of the reasons we are able to be here. And we know dams are a big part of making hydropower, so if we can take a little bit of pressure off that by using solar power to facilitate everything we do here from farming to wine-making to serving wine, it's a great way to do that."

Miller is looking way beyond what the small project will do. He says projects like the winery and larger solar and wind projects will someday make older forms of power generation obsolete.

None of Idaho Power's coal-fired plants are in Idaho. The company co-owns the Jim Bridger power plant in Wyoming, the Boardman coal plant in Oregon and the North Valmy generating station in Nevada.