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We have a philosophy at Dancing Tree Distillery that we should use what we have. To dispose of and replace instead of re-purposing or re-using, seems wasteful. My father just calls me “cheap”, but there is more to it.

As we began planning our distillery, an obvious first question was where to locate our operation. As an 84 mile round trip commuter to Marietta Brewing Company for 12 years, the first criteria for me to be met was “close to home”. Our 200-acre farm fits that bill nicely.

Next, we needed a space for the distillery itself and another for all the storage needs of raw ingredients, bottles, aging barrels, bottling operations, milling operations, etc…As it turned out one of our outbuildings had easy access to what we needed as far as space, power, water and wastewater treatment for the distillery itself. The option for the warehouse did not, however, have the crucial infrastructure element which can make or break a project like this, electricity.

We basically had two options for power, the grid or solar. The grid is a convenient option, but it was not near our building. That meant if we went solar, which fits our style, we could not go grid-intertie without paying for the grid connection costs anyway. So, we began the pricing of options for powering our warehouse. Stand-alone solar versus grid connection.

As a warehouse used for storing and moving large quantities of materials we also wanted a forklift to do the heavy work. The choices for forklifts are either powered by fossil fuel or electricity. Since we are aging oak barrels of different whiskeys and working/breathing in this warehouse, we wanted to keep noxious fumes out. This helped us lean toward an electric-powered forklift. I then spoke with my friend Mark Bisang of Classic Brands beer distributorship and he had an old electric forklift for sale. The nice thing about an electric forklift is it runs on a rather large battery pack, which can be a large chunk of the cost of a stand-alone solar system.

So, I came up with a rather unique idea. I figured we could buy the forklift and it would serve a dual purpose. Lift heavy objects from time to time, and when it’s not lifting things, provide power for our two-grain mills and everything else we need power for. We would have to deal with a lack of electricity when we are using the lift, but that, I felt, was doable.

So the choices really came down to paying to bring the grid to us AND buying a forklift (and another monthly bill), or going solar and basically getting a free forklift and no monthly bill. After running the numbers, it was clear that stand-alone solar was the way to go.

Matt Bennett of Dovetail Solar showed up shortly thereafter and installed our 1.4KW, 36V, stand-alone system with a 6-panel array and 880Ah forklift battery bank. With the help of a 30% Commercial Solar Federal Grant, we actually started saving money as soon as the install was complete! We have been powering the lift, corn mill, malt mill, lights, small heater, and music box most of the winter of 2011-12 with power to spare! Now that the summer sun is kicking, we’re thinking of AC. Because we can!

Note: This blog post originally appeared on the website of Dancing Tree Distillery, which became Fifth Element Spirits, and has now become West End Ciderworks & Distillery.

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