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Sonoma’s Stone Edge Farms earns state award for its energy microgrid

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State-wide recognition has come to Mac McQuown’s experimental micro-grid system, on a winery estate at the foot of Sonoma Mountain near El Verano. Stone Edge Farm has been named one of 13 winners of California’s highest environmental honor, the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA).

The GEELA program honors individuals, organizations and businesses that have demonstrated exceptional leadership and made notable contributions in conserving California’s resources. Stone Edge was one of five awardees in the Sustainable Practices category for its “advanced technology to generate, store and distribute clean energy to its property and beyond.”

“We are excited and deeply honored by this award,” said Craig Wooster, Stone Edge Farm MicroGrid (SEFMG) project manager. “Our mission is to produce world-class cabernet sauvignon using clean electricity and hydrogen made for free from the sun.”

Stone Edge Farm is the 16-acre residence of former Wells Fargo Bank investment director Mac McQuown and his wife, Leslie. The farm produces organically-grown wine grapes plus heirloom vegetables, fruit, olives, herbs, flowers, eggs and honey.

But what sets it apart is its self-contained energy generation network, or microgrid, that stores electricity from solar panels in seven different types of batteries, including non-toxic sodium ion, iron salt water, and lithium iron phosphate technologies, as well as in the form of hydrogen gas. Stone Edge has achieved a negative carbon footprint by efficiently generating, storing and distributing clean energy to all parts of its 16-acre property.

The microgrid is so effective that during the October fires, the estate was able to remain energy self-sufficient despite the disruption that surrounded it. The Stone Edge Farm MicroGrid “islanded,” or ran independently from the utility grid, according to Wooster. “So the farm continued to operate smoothly, including running irrigation pumps, while surrounded by power outages for over a week, monitored from afar by cell phone.”

Stone Edge is a self-proclaimed “demonstration farm for what is possible,” at the cutting edge of soil, water, air and energy conservation. Cover crops and extensive composting ensure soil and plant health, and monitoring technologies have cut water use in half. But the most dramatic results in air and energy conservation have come from the farm’s MicroGrid, and it is that – and not the wine or the veggies or the honey – that caught the attention of the state’s Environmental Protection Agency, or CalEPA.

“This year’s GEELA recipients are demonstrating exceptional leadership in addressing some of our most significant environmental challenges,” said Matthew Rodriguez, the CalEPA Secretary. “Collectively, they are proving that healthy environment is inextricably linked with a vibrant economy.”

The award ceremony took place Jan. 17 in Sacramento, with Wooster accepting the award along with five interns currently working on the SEFMG.

Since the project’s inception, 55 paid interns from a wide array of colleges and universities have participated in its development. The current roster includes graduate students from UC Berkeley, Mills College, Cal State Chico, the University of Missouri and the American College of Commerce and Technology in Virginia.

“The transition from fossil fuels to ‘all renewables’ is underway and the driving force is economics,” said Wooster. “This prestigious award will aid us greatly in communicating that every day members of our staff drive cars powered by hydrogen that we make for free from the sun.”

Established in 1993, GEELA is awarded to individuals, organizations and businesses that have demonstrated exceptional leadership and made notable, voluntary contributions to conserving California’s precious resources, protecting and enhancing our environment, building public-private partnerships and strengthening the state’s economy.

Along with Sustainable Practices, other categories include Climate Change, Ecosystem and Land Use Stewardship, Environmental Education, Waste Reduction and Automobile Dealer Zero Emission Vehicle promotion.