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Blue Sky Vineyard in Makanda adds solar panels to establishment

MAKANDA — A Southern Illinois vineyard owner has found a way to save on electrical cost for his winery by converting his energy to solar production.

For the past two months, Jim Ewers, owner of Blue Sky Vineyard in Makanda, has been working toward the instillation of two solar panels for his winery.

Ewers said the idea came to fruition after Clayton Hanks, an electrician based in Murphysboro, presented an in-depth look at the benefits of solar production in addition to him venturing out to look at other installations in the area.

"When I went out and looked at installations, just to sort of see their work, most of them were in farm settings where they help the use of high energy for drying crops," Ewers said. "They were doing the same thing that we were doing, but for different purposes." 

The installation of the Canadian solar panels, which stretches to about 20 feet in width and 70 feet in height, can be spotted from the vineyard's parking lot and, according to Ewers, should create 25 kilowatts of power.

"It might do about 25 percent of our demands at the most," he said. "It just seems like the responsible thing to do, and obviously, if we are going to do it, it economically makes sense also."

Along with a reduced power bill, David Ronen of A&D Electrical Supply in Litchfield, a small wholesale and resale electrical supply partnering with Hanks to install the solar panels, said benefits of the solar panels for the vineyard includes a 30 percent tax credit and inclusion in a program entitled SREC.

"And that stands for solar renewable energy credit," Ronen said, "and why the state of Illinois is doing this is because they set a standard that by the year 2025 the state of Illinois is suppose to be required by the federally government to meet 20 percent renewable energy, and currently they're at two percent."

With 80 installations — mostly for farmers — completed throughout the state, Ronen said the company's expansion to the area benefits all. 

"Blue Sky creates one mega power and so that system will create about 32 mega power a year, so for the next five years (under an Illinois Power Association program) they're going to get paid to create solar power, and they still get to keep the power they make," he said. 

Ewers said the $50,000 investment is fairly steep but will pay off in time.

"It’s a fairly steep investment, but the pay off time on this is not horribly long," he said "So if somebody has the working capital, I think it would apply to a lot of locations where this will be beneficial."


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Nefeteria Brewster is a reporter covering Marion and Williamson County.

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