Sierra Nevada lauded for alternative energy, storage

  • Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. sustainability manager Cheri Chastain explains Friday how solar, microturbines and battery storage help the brewery manage its power consumption and costs. The banks of microturbines can be seen behind her.

  • Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of California Solar and Storage Association, addresses why power storage will be a critical aspect of power use in California Friday at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

  • Norm Nielsen, CEO of Chico Electric, and Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of California Solar & Storage Association share a laugh Friday.



Chico >> While some think the heart of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. is where beer is made, the beating core of the plant is a $4 million “power plant” of three units about the size of cargo containers. That core keeps the brewery going no matter what, while keeping energy costs down.

It’s been more than a dozen years in the making, but it powers Sierra Nevada with a combination of solar and natural gas, with a slight draw from utility sources.

One brain — an artificial one — keeps the power supply steady, with only a certain percentage coming from PG&E.

In looking ahead, the Chico-based company realized that power costs were a key to managing production costs, according to Sierra Nevada’s sustainability manager Cheri Chastain, who gave a tour of the area Friday as part of a recognition from Chico Electric for sustainability. Sierra Nevada has worked with Chico Electric since the early ’80s.

The brewery made its mark when it installed hydrogen-powered fuel cells for energy production, along with other cost-cutting measures, an event marked in 2005 by a visit from then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But fuel cells weren’t the total answer, especially with the state’s emphasis — and incentives — with solar.

Dedicated to sustainability, the brewery covered its auxiliary parking area roof and other flat surfaces with photovoltaic panels for roughly two megawatts of power, and made solar a large portion of its power in 2007.

Then in 2016 it installed two banks of five Capstone microturbines, which produced roughly two megawatts of electricity and are fueled by natural gas. The turbines also produce heat, which is routed into the brewery to help the boilers, Chastain said.

Power to the brewery amounts to about 20 percent from solar and 70 percent from the microturbines.

But then the brewery recognized storage was as important as the power source. Chastain said the new one megawatt-hour Tesla battery storage bank was installed in early 2017.

All three elements, from the solar to microturbines to battery, were installed under general contractor Chico Electric, and has meant that Sierra Nevada is nearly off the grid in its power generation.

Chastain explained that excess solar and microturbine energy is kept in the battery storage, and when it looks like more power will be drawn from the grid, it taps the battery.

For Sierra Nevada, only a few minutes of grid power can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Storage is a necessity for California’s sustainability, according to Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of California Solar and Storage Association, which formerly was the 40-year-old California Solar Energy Industries Association.


Del Chiaro, who attended the Sierra Nevada tour, said new directions for the California Public Utilities Commission and PG&E will mark a dramatic change for power consumers.

Commercial and residential use of power will be changing, she said, with the new time-of-use program.

Power consumers will be paying more for power, depending on the time it’s used. Simply, power used during peak periods — between noon and 6 p.m. for businesses, and 4 to 9 p.m. for residents — will cost more.

For businesses, the charges will be different depending on the season as well as the time of day.

Del Chiaro noted there residential value of a battery storage system as well. Those who work traditional daytime shifts may not realize how much power will be costing them under the new time-of-use rate plan, she said.

“You come home from work, throw clothes in the laundry, start cooking, and you’re facing power costs that are the highest of the day.”

Users can avoid those costs by tapping into batteries, which also grow in importance during power outages.

Companies such as LG and Mercedes Benz are among the companies making battery storage systems for home use, she said.

What her trade association would like to see is what happened with solar. Once the government embraced solar and started offering incentives, adoption skyrocketed and costs diminished. Her association would like to see the same thing happen with battery storage.

A bill the association is watching is SB 700, which “ would require the California Public Utilities Commission to establish the Energy Storage Initiative to provide rebates to customers of electrical corporations for the installation of energy storage systems consistent with certain requirements,” according to the bill’s text.

“Incentivization is the key to adoption,” Del Chiaro said, mentioning its job creation as a benefit as well.

Del Chiaro noted that Chico Electric CEO Norm Nielsen is treasurer of the 500-member California Solar and Storage Association.

Contact reporter Laura Urseny at 896-7756.

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