Chris Alvarez went against the grain a few years ago when he pulled out a vineyard and planted small Asian pear and peach orchards in the Griffin Creek drainage.

The grower has 250 trees on 2½ acres on Burrell Road. During early harvests he simply took his crops to social service agencies or food banks for distribution. Now that the trees are maturing, he's ready to branch out into commercial channels, something that will require refrigeration and a sizable financial investment.

Alvarez was among 100 or so people who attended Pacific Power's Wattsmart presentation Wednesday at the Inn at The Commons to learn ways to keep energy costs in line.

"I'm trying to figure out exactly what it's going to cost and what my incentives are to save on my electricity bill for a large refrigeration unit or a walk-in refrigeration unit," Alvarez said.

From industrial applications to institutional lighting, Energy Trust representatives had an array of PowerPoint presentations, brochures and charts to provide answers. 

"Now that my trees are getting old enough to support  the kind of weight on each tree, I can put it into cold storage and then get it to market without it getting over-ripe or spoiled," he said. "It doesn't have to be that cold. Peaches have to stay at a certain temperature, it can't be too cold or the fruit will turn brown."

A year from now, a refrigeration unit will allow Alvarez to take his produce to co-ops in Ashland or Medford.

"I can't just say, 'OK, I've got 10 cases.' They're not going to do business with me unless I can consistently say I've got 30 cases today or 30 cases next week," Alvarez said. "I'll be able to say I've got 50 or 100 cases of organic peaches, and they'll do business with me because I will have the kinds of amounts that they can buy from me. As long as I'm consistent, the co-ops will do business with me."

Ulrike Mengelberg, an outreach manager from Cascade Energy, who led a breakout session on agriculture incentives, reminded her audience it was critical to get pre-approval, especially on custom projects.

"If it's been done in the past, we can't do anything," she said. 

"We really want to provide the incentives for you, because we're buying those energy savings," Mengelberg said. "It is really important for the region, it's good for all the utilities, and overall it just costs less."

Erring Cypher of RHT Energy Solutions, who deals with upgrades for existing buildings, said incentive checks from the Energy Trust are considered income and "therefore taxable." He suggested reviewing the specifics with a CPA.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or Follow him on Twitter at, and read his blog at Edge.