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Local businesses take advantage of solar power

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Posted: Thursday, January 2, 2014 12:00 am

Saving energy and money by harnessing the sun’s power is nothing new, but a number of new projects went online in Lodi in 2013.

The city has offered a solar rebate program since 2007, as required by legislation. Approved in 2006, Senate Bill 1 requires all electric service providers like Lodi Electric Utility to provide incentives to switch to solar, such as rebates.

Rob Lechner, the city’s business development manager, said Lodi’s requirement is to provide $6.1 million in incentives. He said the city is on track to fulfill that requirement by 2017, when SB1 is set to expire.

Lodi’s rebate program has generated 180 solar customers since 2007, 30 of which are non-residential. In 2013, four commercial, industrial and nonprofit businesses applied for rebates and were approved, including LOEL Center and Garden.

Tracy Williams, CEO and president of the LOEL Foundation, said the senior center was one of the city’s first solar rebate customers when the program began.

She said LOEL was actually one of the “test pilot” companies for the program, and it has worked out well for the nonprofit.

The center originally installed a 5-kilowatt solar panel system on the rear section of its building. When the opportunity arose to install more panels and apply for a rebate in 2012, Williams said the center took it. Three more panels were added in 2013.

“We use a lot of electricity here,” she said. “We’re open all day, and sometimes all seven days of the week. This has been really beneficial when it comes to saving money on our electric bill.”

Williams said the center’s bill can sometimes be as much as $2,000 a month. With the city’s rebate for installing solar equipment, she said LOEL has saved as much as $500 a month.

Softcom in Galt recently submitted plans to install photovoltaic panels on the roof top of their building on Industrial Drive. The goal of that solar project is also to reduce utility bills, as providing Internet services to a larger clientele has significantly increased power usage.

In 2012, Galt dairyman Leo Van Warmerdam converted more than 200 acres into a farm including rows of six-foot long solar panels to capture sunlight for conversion into electricity.

“There have been a lot of solar projects in and around Galt over the last few years, including the city’s wastewater treatment plant,” Galt City Manager Jason Behrmann said.

There, the arrays of solar panels that move throughout the day to collect the sun’s energy are leased from SMUD under a 20-year agreement. In the first year of operation in 2011, the set-up saved about $40,000.

Galtonians, too, may soon be able to make similar solar-friendly upgrades through a new clean energy county program.

Earlier this month, the Galt City Council voted to partner with Sacramento County to allow property owners to voluntarily finance certain conservation measures by repaying a loan through special taxes on their property tax bills. This not only reduces the upfront costs, but allows the cost improvements to be shared with future property owners.

LOEL’s Williams said the center would apply for rebates again if it needed to install more equipment, and the city has been great to work with.

“It’s just a great program,” she said. “We’re a nonprofit, so anything to help us save some money really helps. The more we use (the solar equipment), the greater it will help in the long-run.”

Other rebate applicants approved this year were Lodi Unified School District, Lodi Seventh-Day Adventist Elementary School and Farwest Safety, Inc.

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