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Meehleis Modular installs largest solar system in Lodi

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Posted: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 6:06 am, Tue Nov 2, 2010.

Solar panels now power all of the skill saws, welders, overhead cranes and lights at Meehleis Modular.

About 20 percent of the solar energy produced in Lodi is on the modular building company’s 10-acre roof.

The panels have operated for three weeks now, and generated enough energy to offset the emissions of 10,300 miles of vehicle traffic, according to the company.

Meehleis Modular had the 1,224 panels installed with the goal of making the company grid neutral, which means it is generating more energy than it is using, Vice President Mike Sinclair said.

“There are lots of costs we can’t control, like the price of fuel and transportation, but this one we can,” Sinclair said.

The company started looking into installing the system about a year ago, when an employee suggested it. The system will pay for itself in about five years, Sinclair said.

“The energy produced from the sun is free, so we might as well take advantage of it,” Sinclair said.

The entire system cost about roughly $1 million and took seven weeks to install, said Rich Remmington, owner of BTA Solar. The company does commercial, residential and agriculture installations, and he described the Meehleis installation as mid-sized commercial.

Remmington said Lodi has one of the best rebate programs in the state. The city will reimburse $2.42 for every watt.

The Meehleis project received the maximum city rebate of $375,000, said Rob Lechner, manager of customer service and programs.

The state requires all utilities to offer a rebate program, Lechner said. One of the mandates is that utilities offer $6 million over 10 years, and Lodi has spread that out, offering about $600,000 a year.

The city has already received enough project applications to use the rest of the money for 2010, so the city is asking anyone interested to apply in 2011, Lechner said. About 20 projects are in the pipeline.

One of the advantages of having a rebate program with a municipal utility is it can help guide businesses through the process, Interim City Manager Rad Bartlam said. Businesses that install systems have more money to invest in the company or job growth once the system is paid off.

“Businesses can reduce energy costs with a relatively short payback, which makes them more competitive,” he said.

Also, having more solar systems helps the utility because it has to meet state requirements for renewable energy, Bartlam said.

For Meehleis, it will help not only the bottom line, but the business can also use it as a marketing tool, Sinclair said.

The company is increasingly asked to create LEED-certified modular buildings for its customers, so having sustainable business practices is important, Sinclair said.

If other companies are looking at installing solar systems, Sinclair recommends that they look at the how long it will take for the system to will pay itself off and how much energy the business needs.

“We are 100 percent for it,” Sinclair said. “If the numbers work, it’s a no-brainer.”

Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at maggiec@ lodinews.com or read her blog at www.lodinews.com/blogs/city_buzz.

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