Soiland quarry solar: ‘You can’t ever stop learning to be more sustainable’
Upon my arrival to interview Mark Soiland, CEO of Soiland Company, about its renewable-energy efforts, he asked me why I didn’t drive an electric car. He has done his homework, knows the costs and benefits, and has been advocating with his board to buy electric cars for the business. I couldn’t help but be impressed by Mark’s knowledge and passion.
In operation for 52 years, Soiland Company produces rock, soil, and compost at three locations in Sonoma County. In the last five years they have recycled over 500,000 tons of rubble, concrete, and asphalt — more than any other North Bay company.
When California recently restructured electricity rates, the company’s utility costs soared as the result of demand charges — from about $8,000 per month during full production to $25,000–$30,000 per month.
“The economic problem for the company was very real,” Mr. Soiland said.
In response they hired North Coast Solar to install a 202 kilowatt solar tracking system at their Stony Point Rock Quarry. The new solar farm consists of 33 units, each with 24 solar panels that use GPS tracking to turn toward the sun. This approach is 40 percent more efficient than stationary ground mounted or roof top solar.
The company has cut its energy bills by more than half, and expects the installation to pay for itself in just seven years. Eventually Soiland plans to quadruple the size of its solar field, potentially selling the excess energy to Sonoma Clean Power as part of their Feed-In Tariff program. Their solar project aligns with the company’s environmental values and makes financial sense.
Although the new system supplies enough electricity for typical operating demand for crushing rock and recycled concrete, it does not supply sufficient output for expensive demand spikes which can reach 700 kilowatts. To manage these spikes, the company recently joined Tesla in an electrical storage pilot project. With no commitment or installation costs for Soiland, the project is expected to provide 200 kilowatts of storage and reduce Soiland’s demand charges during peak usage.
Managing electric load to reduce costs and creating the capacity to sell power back to the utility when generating a surplus can both green the electric supply and contain costs. This strategy is the business energy model of the future that a few forward-thinking businesses like Soiland Company are already pursuing.
Kjell Kallman, director of marketing and sales, spoke about a strategic planning process the business is going through. “We are keeping our eyes up, thinking long term, thinking about the impact of our actions on the community and on the environment.”
The company already gives away compost and supports community gardens. It is also supporting the CERES project, that feeds people with serious illnesses, by supporting their gardening operation.
Soiland is also embarking on the process of becoming a Sonoma County Green Business with the goal of achieving certification by County of Sonoma by the end of the year.
After Mark’s research on electric vehicles, he decided on a Ford C-Max which to date gets him 106 miles per gallon. He installed a level 2 charger in front of Soiland’s office and is considering acquiring two more hybrids or electric vehicles for the company.
Mark says that he wants his business to be more than a normal institution. He wants to do something significant to reduce its impact on the environment. But he acknowledges whatever change they make has to add productive value so it is truly sustainable.
When asked why environmental values are so important to him, Mark replied, “You can’t ever stop learning to be more sustainable. Our industry has a reputation for not being sustainable that we must overcome. You have to ask yourself what kind of legacy do you want to leave. I have kids.”
Barry Vesser is with Business for Clean Energy, Center for Climate Protection, 707-525-1665, ext. 113, email@example.com.