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Solar Energy in California

Solar energy powers the water that grows the grapes used to make the wine


Energy that runs the pumps to water some of the grapes for Bargetto Winery comes from the sun, a cost-saving trend that's playing out in dozens of vineyards across California.

"In a small microscopic way, I'd like to think I'm doing my part to conserve energy — and my wine has never been better," said 44-year-old John Bargetto, whose family has been making wine since the late 1800s on 40 acres called Regan Vineyards.

Bargetto's new set of 3 kilowatt solar panels, installed in January, is expected to offset 200,000 pounds of carbon dioxide production at Moss Landing's natural gas power plants over the next 25 years.

All told, Bargetto expects his system of panels to pay for itself in the next four years from the $1,800 a year he will save by converting sunlight into electricity and avoiding those electric bills.

The rest is free — and history.

It took Bargetto and local solar energy guru Roger DeNault of the Santa Cruz-based Solar Technologies a year and a half to acquire the proper county permit and get the panels running.

Now that the system is in place, everything else is falling in step with nature.

The panels absorb the sunlight, which is eventually turned into electricity, which feeds into the nearby utility poles hooked up to PG&E's massive grid.

Over the course of the year the sunlight is expected to generate 4,500 kwh, available for the taking when Bargetto is ready — like this summer when he needs to water his expansive fields of grapes that wind up in the bottles that have gone head to head in taste tests against the French, Italians and Australians.

"We've got some of the finest wine grown here in the Santa Cruz Mountains," says Bargetto, careful to include just about everybody in showing his pride for the wine-growing region along the Central Coast.

Across the state grape growers are getting with the program, taking advantage of the array of rebates being offered by the California Energy Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission as an incentive to conserve energy.

That's according to DeNault, who keeps plenty busy either overseeing the installation of the solar panels or helping others reconfigure their farms to the point where the high-tech yet simple panels are becoming a common sight amid the rows of crops.

"In the long run, solar energy will help reduce global warming," said DeNault. "It cuts back on the loads and loads of fossil fuels and that, in turn, helps the environment."

As for Bargetto, his sustainable approach to grape-growing and wine-making doesn't stop at harnessing the sun's energy for irrigation.

"If you build them, they will come," he says mysteriously, referring to a pair of owl barns, a magnified version of a birdhouse that gives the owls a place to sleep in the day before they go out hunting gophers at night.

"I'm not going to say that they wipe out the entire population of gophers, but they do the job, and I don't have to use pesticide," he said.

But it is the introduction of solar energy of which Bargetto is most proud.

"This is the wave of the future for farms," he said. "People just don't realize it yet."