Hidden away in one of Lodi's many side alleys is a parking structure with a green side.
The parking awning behind the law offices of Marshall and Marshall is topped with photovoltaic modules that collect Lodi's bright sunshine and convert it into electricity.
David Marshall, who owns the building with accountant Dennis Morita, said he had been interested in solar power for some time and eventually decided to take the city up on its offer of a rebate.
Marshall said city of Lodi solar rebates covered $56,000 of the system's $200,000 cost, and he received tax credits on 30 percent of the difference. The system should pay for itself in about seven or eight years, and after that, Marshall expects to see considerable savings for the next decade. That small solar project in the alley may reflect a wider trend: Lodi is turning a deeper shade of green. The city is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the sun, wind - and federal stimulus dollars. It has its own city-owned utility, and it owns a big plot of land at White Slough where intensive wind or solar development could occur. It offers discounts for cutting energy costs and embracing new forms of power.
And it is part of a power cooperative that pulls energy from sustainable sources that include steam generated deep within the earth.
What does this mean for ratepayers? Over time, Lodi's energy will become even more sustainable and diverse.
One future possibility: That small solar array behind the building on West Pine Street could be replicated on a much larger scale at the top level of the city's sprawling parking garage Downtown, said Walley Sandelin, the city's public works director.
He said such a project was originally envisioned when the parking garage was built in 2002, and it's still possible. The city is pursuing federal stimulus dollars to install solar panels on top of its new bus maintenance shop located at the municipal yard near Ham and Kettleman lanes.
Lodi already has a small number of electric-powered cars that staff members use to zip around the city, and has a solar-powered charging station at the municipal yard. At the White Slough wastewater treatment plant, located off Interstate 5, Sandelin said, the city has installed a system that captures methane gas from the plant's sewage digesters. That gas is then burned to provide heat for the staff at the plant.
Sandelin said that about two years ago, the City Council passed a resolution directing staff to seek out opportunities to use renewable energy and other sustainable technology. The city's commitment to find "green" opportunities can be seen in the steps toward more solar and also in the new Blue Shield building that's at the heart of the planned Reynolds Ranch development located south of Harney Lane. The Blue Shield building is the only LEED certified building in Lodi. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, sets the designs for buildings that have a minimal drain on resources.
The Reynolds Ranch project is planned to have one of the highest densities in the city, a key element of LEED standards to reduce sprawl. Blue Shield employees will also have access to mass transit and walking and biking trails, all part of LEED guidelines.
Some of the other green features of the Blue Shield building include lobby floors made of bamboo, carpets comprised of mainly recycled materials, and landscaping that includes marshes designed to naturally cleanse stormwater of contaminants.
The council also just approved a 10 percent electricity rate discount for other companies that pursue LEED certification, or those that sell or manufacture green technology.
The city has requested $1 million in federal stimulus money to install solar panels on top of its new bus maintenance shed.
City staff will continue to seek federal money for as many renewable projects as it can, said George Morrow, Lodi Electric Utility director.
"There's a lot of stuff going on out there, and we'll leverage the federal dollars when we can," he said.
About 27 percent of Lodi's energy supply is deemed renewable. Add in the power Lodi receives from a large-scale hydroelectric project that the state does not deem as renewable, and more than half, or 53 percent, of the city's power comes from sources aside from fossil fuels.
Lodi in the 'top 10 percent'
"If you look at all the other utilities, we're in the top 10 percent" of those using "green" power in the nation, said George Morrow, the director of Lodi Electric Utility.
Lodi's powerGeothermal: 16.4 MW-h
Hydroelectric: 35.5 MW-h
Natural gas turbine: 19.7 MW-h
Seatle Power and Light: 25 MW-h
ConocoPhillips: 25 MW-h
Other contracts: 20-50 MW-h
Source: City of Lodi
Morrow said he believes the state doesn't rate large hydro projects as renewable because of environmentalists' concerns about the effect a large dam has on a river.
Morrow came to Lodi in early 2006 after being in charge of the municipal utility in Independence, Mo. He said many utilities in the Midwest get 90 to 95 percent of their power from coal or nuclear.
The city is still bound by what technology is available. Solar and wind power have great potential, but Morrow said they still can't be relied on to provide affordable and reliable power. No batteries currently exist that can store enough energy to make solar or wind a source for any city's base load power.
"The word in the business is, you can't store electricity. It's not economical," he said.
Morrow said the city's rebates for residential customers have sparked several small projects throughout the city. However, he notes that the utility has led the charge toward renewable energy itself.
Key to that effort is Lodi's membership in the Northern California Power Agency, a joint-powers association of independent electric utilities scattered across the northern half of the state. The NCPA draws power from several hydroelectric stations and from a large geothermal power plant.
The geothermal station, known as The Geysers, is situated in the Mayacamas Mountain range that straddles Sonoma and Lake counties. There, power is generated from a huge steam reservoir buried about four miles below the earth's surface.
Steam at The Geysers is formed through the natural process of molten rock heating water trapped in rock fissures. This creates steam, which is then tapped by wells that have been drilled into the ground. The steam travels up the wells to the power plant, where it spins turbines and generates power.
The power plant also runs off of steam created by pumping treated wastewater to The Geysers from Lake County. It takes electricity to pump the water up to the geothermal plant, but NCPA has taken steps to ensure that energy is renewable. Morrow said Lodi has a 10 percent share of a six-acre, one-megawatt solar plant at The Geysers. The solar plant provides the electricity for the geothermal project. A second one megawatt solar array is also under construction at The Geysers, and Lodi has contributed $800,000 toward that project, along with other NCPA members.
Lodi also receives a 4.8 percent share of a geothermal energy produced at The Geysers by the private company Western GeoPower Inc. as part of a deal structured through the NCPA last year.
"Geothermal is like the best thing there is," Morrow said.
The city has also solicited bids for more renewable power projects through the NCPA's "Green Power Project."
Morrow said that as part of the program, the city essentially asks for bids on renewable energy projects. Lodi has received some interesting bids for projects ranging from solar to "biomass" generation - burning methane released from cow manure to power turbines. Morrow said none of the projects have yet come to fruition, but the city is still talking to a few parties.
When Lodi does receive a plan with "some meat on its bones" that could be pursued in Lodi, Morrow said, the city will seek out federal stimulus money.
Also promising is the interest by a few companies to develop a large scale solar project at White Slough. Both Morrow and Sandelin mentioned that a few groups have toured the site and expressed interest because of Lodi's abundant sunshine, open space at White Slough and its proximity to the high-power transmission lines that run near the wastewater plant.
Morrow added that the city has been collecting data on the winds near the White Slough plant and the area seems promising for wind power, as well.
It is greener on the other side of the Bay
Although Lodi may be far ahead of other utilities, it still lags behind some of its partners in NCPA. The Ukiah, Palo Alto, Healdsburg and Alameda municipal utilities all have a greater percentage of their power coming from renewable sources than Lodi.
A little more than 80 percent of Alameda Municipal Utility's power comes from renewable sources.
Alameda has a public utility commission appointed by the city council. This commission and the utility's manager made a commitment to renewable resources several decades ago, said Bill Garvine, the utility's marketing manager.
The utility obtains about 40 percent of its green energy from The Geysers plant from which Lodi draws power, too.
Garvine said that each NCPA member can decide how much it wants to invest in a project and those that invest to a greater degree receive a greater share.
Garvine said Alameda also has a contract for $55 to $70 per megawatt of power from a wind farm located on the Carquinez Strait off of San Pablo Bay, as well as a $55 to $60 per megawatt contract for power generated by burning methane gas captured at a landfill.
Being ahead of the green trend also enabled the utility to invest in renewable energy sources at a cheaper cost than it would be today.
Lodi, in comparison, is paying $98 per megawatt hour for the power it receives from The Geysers through GeoPower. One megawatt of electricity is roughly enough to power 1,000 homes.
"They made these investments and secured long-term power agreements to ensure we had a very heavy mix of renewable power and that continues to this day," Garvine said. "We've always had a green consciousness."