Sep 29, 2013 2:17 PM by AP
Abita Brewing Co. is approaching its goal of becoming one of the most energy-efficient breweries in the country as it now is using a 340-panel rooftop solar system to power its brew house. New Orleans-based South Coast Solar installed the 84-kilowatt photovoltaic system, which the brewery recently unveiled.
It is one of the largest commercial solar systems in the state, according to South Coast Solar.
"It really fits in to what we do as a brewery - trying to be a good neighbor and a good environmental steward," Abita Beer President David Blossman said. "We think that we have some of the most beautiful environment and nature here, and especially here in Abita Springs."
St. Tammany Parish-based Abita now is one of a handful of breweries across the country using solar technology. Others include Sierra Nevada in Chico, Calif., Arbor Brewing Co. in Michigan and an Anheuser-Busch location in Newark, N.J.
Kevin Boone, a renewable energy coordinator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Abita's new solar system would offset the company's current energy consumption by about 10 percent. It should offset more than 2.7 million kilowatt hours, officials estimated.
The system, which took about three weeks to install, cost $199,585, and 25 percent of that - $49,896 - was covered by a grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Energy for America Program. The grant money came from Louisiana's allotment of funds from the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 - - better known as the Farm Bill - Boone said.
Blossman said the system would be well worth the cost, adding that it falls in line with Abita's goal to be among the most energy-efficient breweries in the country.
Meanwhile, the brewery is undergoing a $12 million expansion that will double the brew house's capacity and increase Abita's energy efficiency by 30 percent.
"Abita is very green," Chief Financial Officer Troy Ashley said of the company's commitment to energy efficiency.
Blossman said Abita's bottles use 12-percent less glass than traditional longneck bottles. The six packs are wrapped instead of placed in a carrier, and Ashley said that packaging uses nearly 50 percent less cardboard than most traditional carriers.
Jerry Hymel, Sun Coast Solar's vice president of commercial projects, said solar technology will allow Abita to lock in its energy rates long term and reinvest its savings into the future growth of the company. Hymel developed the project and helped author the USDA grant application.
The Abita project was a little larger than ones the USDA normally takes on, Boone said, but it met the program's requirements and the Obama Administration's goals to have 80 percent of the country's electricity come from clean sources by 2035.
Boone, who works out of the USDA's Lafayette office, said his office gets between 15 and 20 grant requests each year, and that roughly 20 percent of those requests come from small businesses.
The other requests come from farmers who are looking to change their irrigation systems to reduce expenses. The grants also have helped grocery stores install new freezers and car dealerships install solar panels in their lots.