Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Vacaville Expends Energy To Save It

Vacaville Expends Energy To Save It
By Ian Thompson | DAILY REPUBLIC

VACAVILLE - Efforts to put more alternative fuel vehicles on the road, increase the amount of solar energy generated and recycle more trash have made 2007 a green year for Vacaville.

The coming year is expected to be even greener, according to city leaders.

Vacaville will continue promoting incentives to buy alternative fuel cars, putting solar panels on city facilities such as the police department headquarters and encouraging local businesses to do the same.

These efforts 'are a cost savings and not just to protect the environment,' City Manager David Van Kirk said.

Vacaville reached the 3-megawatt mark for solar power production early this month when the ALZA Corp. started up its 1-megawatt solar facility.

ALZA's array of nearly 5,800 solar panels, located on 6 acres next to the plant, now generate about a third of the facility's energy needs.

Solar panels have been installed atop City Hall and at the Bella Vista Park and Ride Lot, which is used to provide electricity for a nearby electric vehicle charging station.

'We are looking at the possibility of a solar field in the area of the Easterly wastewater treatment plant,' Van Kirk said.

In the private sector, the Meritage Homes developer is building energy-efficient homes that it contends will save homeowners as much as 70 percent on their energy bills through solar panels and other energy conservation technology.

Businesses such as Creekside Orthodontics, Kohl's, Staples and the State Compensation Insurance Fund have taken out permits to install solar arrays.

Vacaville presently leads the nation for municipalities that use alternative fuel cars in its fleet, according to Edward Huestis, who runs the city's solar and alternative fuel car programs.

The city's alternative fuel vehicle fleet has 25 electric cars and several Honda natural gas vehicles. City Coach has five buses that run on natural gas, and there are plans to convert the entire fleet within two years.

'That's how we got the nickname of Voltageville,' Huestis quipped.

Vacaville's reputation has drawn the attention of the Los Angeles-based electric car manufacturer Miles Electric Vehicles, which is looking into setting up shop in Vacaville, Huestis said.

The electric fleet is fueled from energy generated by solar panels, so 'we don't have any electric costs there and any excess power is used to lower the utility bills at City Hall,' Huestis said.

A variety of incentives are offered to residents who drive natural gas vehicles with the goal to have at least 100 of those vehicles on the road by 2008.

'I want to shoot right through that in the first quarter of 2008' said Huestis, who plans to see 150 alternative fuel cars in town by summer.

Huestis takes pride in keeping Vacaville on the cutting edge of alternative fuel cars. 'We are doing what we can to clean our air,' he said. 'We are just trying to do our part and not just doing business as usual.'

The city's refuse recycling program boosted the amount of recycled materials by 40 percent in 2007 after the city replaced small yellow bins with the much larger blue toters, according to Kari Holmes, who leads the city's recycling program.

'That allowed us to implement the single-stream recycling,' Holmes said.

The large toters have encouraged residents to recycle more because they can simply put all their recyclables in one toter rather than having to sort them out into different bins.

'They appreciate the larger size. It lessens the amount of materials that will go into our landfill by providing an easy, user-friendly way to recycle,' Holmes said.

Recycling efforts allowed Vacaville to meet its 56 percent diversion goal for 2005, and Holmes said she will know whether the city met the goal for 2006 when figures come back in February.

Holmes plans to continue to fine-tune recycling programs in 2008. That will include the city's first pharmaceutical turn-in event to be held on Jan. 26. Residents can turn in unneeded and expired prescriptions at the police department.

'If it goes well, we are hoping to do it on a quarterly basis,' Holmes said.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or

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