A Day in the
Solar Work Life
Cheri Chastain rides her bicycle to work at Sierra Nevada Brewing
Co. — it’s just 2. 2 flat miles across almost-always-sunny Chico, Calif.
Today, she arrives at 7 a.m. and heads for the Hot Rot tank, a composting digester. Using a forklift, she dumps about 1,500 pounds of
food — the scrapings from the restaurant out front — into a hopper,
followed by a load of wood chips. Over the next two weeks this load of
trash will travel slowly along the 50-foot steel
“stomach” of the composter and emerge as
separate stacks of clean fertilizer for the brewery’s hop fields, and clean wood chips for recycling back into the digester. The composter
processes about 700 tons annually.
Working toward Zero
In her role as sustainability coordinator, sourcing and installing
the composter was one of Chastain’s first projects. She joined the
company in 2006 as recycling coordinator, while finishing up her
master’s degree in environmental geography at Chico State University. “I just answered an ad in the paper,” she said.
Chastain’s master’s thesis was on sustainability — specifically
on how to define, understand and address human impact on climate
and earth systems. It was good preparation for the new job. Within
three months Sierra Nevada owner Ken Grossman asked her to look
into the brewery’s greenhouse gas and effluent water emissions, and
her job description broadened to encompass sustainability issues
across the entire enterprise. She maintains existing sustainability
functions (the huge photovoltaic and fuel-cell systems, for instance),
initiates new projects and process improvements, and handles sustainability education of employees, customers and peers in the food
and beverage industries.
Grossman, a chemistry graduate of Chico State, founded the
company in 1980, with partner Paul Camusi, simply by expanding
their home brewing operations. In the early days, when resources
were scarce, they scrounged, salvaged and recycled everything they
could. As the operation grew, it was a normal business practice to
recycle everything from mash solids (into high-protein animal feed)
to waste heat.
Chastain reports directly to Grossman, whom she identifies
as the company’s real sustainability officer. “The job just got bigger than Ken could manage,” she said. The job continues to grow:
Chastain now has a full-time assistant, Mandi McKay.
After parking the forklift Chastain spends a couple of hours
answering email. A lot of it is questions from customers and students. “We have a FAQ page on the website, but we try to talk
individually with people who ask a specific question.” She’s also working up a project to upgrade the
chiller system to save electricity; Pacific Gas & Electric has a rebate program available to help pay for
the new equipment, and she’s applying to it. An expensive item is the plan to replace the six-year-old
bank of four Fuel Cell Energy DFC 300 fuel cells, each rated at 300 megawatts (these now run at about
250 MW each). The system supplies the brewery’s baseload electric power, but the DFC 300 was a
first-generation product and more efficient machines are now available. The question is whether to
By SETH MASIA
Seth Masia is the deputy editor of SOLAR TODAY.