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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, August 4, 2014, 6:15 am

Embracing innovation to solve difficult energy challenges

Mark West Quarry took $4 million risk to reduce carbon footprint

By Jane Bender

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    Solar panels at Mark West Quarry - NBBJ file photo

    Some 3,444 solar panels installed at the Mark West Quarry are capable of producing 1,165 megawatts of clean energy annually. (Business Journal file photo)

    Guest Contributor Jane BenderAs climate change bears down on us, one solution is to eliminate energy-guzzling businesses. In many cases, a better solution for these businesses is innovation — making money while going green.

    BoDean, a local supplier of aggregate and asphalt, has transformed the face of quarry operation and asphalt production. In 2011, they won the Bay Area Helios Award for leadership in Sustainable Business Practices. As they celebrate their 25th anniversary, it seems important to showcase their remarkable achievements both in quarry management and at the asphalt plant on Maxwell Drive in Santa Rosa.

    Go green, make money: BoDean Company’s story

    Can a business stay profitable while going green? BoDean Company, an aggregate and asphalt producer in Sonoma County, discovered that in making changes in their operations to conserve resources and reduce emissions, they saved money as well. As it turns out, it’s profitable to do the right thing.

    Video and editing by Andrea Allen.
    Photography by Andy Ferguson.
    Produced by Business for Clean Energy and the Climate Protection Campaign.

    Dean and Belinda Soiland took over operations of the Mark West Quarry near Calistoga in 1989. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors was phasing out mining in the Russian River. The Soilands set out to prove he could produce high quality material from a hillside quarry with the smallest environmental footprint possible.

    In 2011, that quarry became the first in the world to run on 100 percent solar power. Bill Williams, general manager, talked about the process. “One of the biggest hurdles was getting the management team on board with a capital expenditure of over $4 million. Was solar financially responsible?” 

     Mr. Williams and Mr. Soiland were personally convinced it was responsible, and brought in their CPA who ran the numbers and agreed. Thanks to tax breaks, federal grants, rebates and other incentives, the investment worked. As Mr. Williams said, “We saw a cash flow benefit right out the gate.”

    Clean sand is critical to asphalt and concrete. So when the board of supervisors voted to limit sand and gravel removal from the Russian River, BoDean built its own wash plant at the Mark West Quarry, a system that recycles nearly all its used water. And like the solar panels, this closed-loop washing system is another first in North American quarries.

    BoDean’s other major operation is the asphalt plant on Maxwell Drive in Santa Rosa which the Soilands took over in 2001. As with the quarries, the company is constantly looking at ways to shrink the plant’s environmental footprint while making a profit. Some changes are small. Others like their silo project are significant innovations.

     Asphaltic concrete is a combination of rock, sand and asphalt binder. The rock and sand is dried to remove excess moisture, then mixed with the asphalt binder. The mixture is produced at approximately 300°F.

     It is much more efficient to produce the material in a steady consistent operation as opposed to starting and stopping the plant, then re-heating it again for the next customer – a huge and costly drain of natural gas.

     The silos work like a thermos and maintain the asphalt mixture at the proper temperature for a longer period of time, saving energy and money.

    Both Mr. Williams and Mr. Soiland have been strong and vocal advocates for Sonoma Clean Power.

    “Choice and competition is always good,” said Mr. Williams. “And it makes more sense to produce energy where it is used. Sonoma Clean Power could potentially be a partner in expanding our solar panel arrays to produce additional local energy.”

     When Mr. Soiland was asked what his vision was when he bought the quarry back in 1989, he smiled. “Pretty much the company we have now,” he said, but also added, “It has been a great team effort to get where we are today, and God has blessed us.” 

    Both agree that it is hard to accurately equate business growth with the environmental improvements. But Mr. Williams and Mr. Soiland believe that their customers take pride in the work that has been done.

     ”The projects we’ve created,” said Mr. Williams, “work on the environmental side as well as with increased margins and goodwill which is a measurable business benefit.”

     Mr. Soiland concurred. “When you give back and stewardship is a priority, good things usually happen.”

     …

    Jane Bender is the president of the Climate Protection Campaign and former council member and mayor of Santa Rosa

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