Monday, June 11, 2007

Going Green

Going Green
Local Firms Launch Environmentally Friendly Projects
By Shelly Meron/Business Writer

SPG Solar Project Superintendent Tim Cain aligns rows of solar energy panels being installed at Alza Corporation. The solar farm is scheduled to go online in September and will supply one third of the drug makers energy needs. (Rick Roach/The Reporter)

With energy costs on the rise and no relief in sight, local businesses are going green in the hopes of saving money and keeping the environment healthy.

Alza Corporation's 8.5-acre solar farm, one of several local green projects, is due to be completed by the end of August. The multi-million dollar project will include 5,740 solar panels, expected to produce about 970 kilowatts of energy per hour on sunny days that will power Alza's local manufacturing facility.

Bill Haish, senior director of engineering at Alza, said the solar farm will offset 25 percent of the company's daytime power usage during the summer. But, he said, the environmental benefits are the real reasons Alza went ahead with the project.

"These things aren't really about saving money," Haish said. "They're about doing the right thing. We're really happy about being able to do that and showing our commitment toward the environment."

Alza also recycles between 75 and 80 percent of its solid waste. The money they get from the recycling plant adds up to about $15,000 a year - all of which is donated to local organizations.

The company also installed a wastewater treatment facility to clean up the water it uses to produce pharmaceutical products. The water is treated to near drinking water quality before it is sent to a local treatment facility.

Thanks to the new plant, Alza no longer pays an outside company to dispose of the water.

Mariani Packing Company is also going green with a wastewater treatment plant installed six months ago, and plans to break ground on a 6000-panel solar farm in June.

"Even though in today's dollars, (a solar farm is) a very low return, we think long-term it will be beneficial to us as a company and to the environment," said CEO Mark Mariani, who worries about rising natural gas prices.

Mariani said the solar farm is expected to produce one megawatt of energy per year. He said it would cost $250,000 a year to buy that much energy from PG&E.

The company's wastewater treatment plant also captures methane gas from the water it processes, which is then sent back to the facility's boilers and used as energy.

Others in Vacaville who are going green include Millenium Sports Club, which just completed a covered parking structure complete with solar panels, and Kohl's Department Store, which is one of 24 Kohl's locations in California scheduled to convert to solar power.

The $1.5 million solar project at Millenium Sports Club has been running since May, and is generating about 150 kilowatts of energy an hour, saving the Club between $4,500 and $6,000 during the summer.

Millenium Sports Club president Galen Miler has also installed solar panels at his club in El Dorado, and hopes to do the same for all five of his clubs. Even though he is years away from recouping his money, Miler said this was a good investment.

"I think given the instability and the cost of energy, if you're an energy-intensive business, solar energy is really worthwhile to look at," he said.

The City of Vacaville is also trying to be more green. It offers incentive programs for locals who buy electric and compressed natural gas vehicles, and has been using solar panels installed on the roof of City Hall since 2003. It also offers electric vehicle charging stations at the Bella Vista Road Park and Ride lot.

For business owners considering going green - particularly with solar panels - Miler has some advice.

"I would encourage people to do it, but they need to do their homework and work with people who understand alternative energy," he said. "There are obstacles, but like anything else, when you get some experience in it and work with the right people, the results are great."

Crews from SPG Solar install energy panels at the new solar farm at Alza Corporation in Vacaville. (Rick Roach/The Reporter)

Shelly Meron can be reached at

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