August 4, 2014
When Stony Rock Quarry saw its power bill skyrocket from $13,000 in April 2012 to $24,000 in May 2012, company leaders knew something had to change. The California Public Utilities Commission eliminated the average rate limiter meaning commercial companies were subject to even more penalties and charges. The company was moved from the lowest rate of A6 on Pacific Gas & Electric’s rate scale to the highest rate, E19, for grid demand peaks over 500 kilowatts in any two-month period.
This was a rate they couldn’t handle for very long.
“When this was going on, we were just starting to see signs of recovery in the construction sector and once the average rate limiter was eliminated, we felt we had to do something innovative in order to keep seeing that recovery move forward,” says Mark Soiland, president of Soiland Co., which operates the quarry. “That’s where the solar system really provided a solution. It allowed us to find a way to keep our prices reasonable for our customers and keep us financially stable at the same time.”
That’s why the company decided to invest in solar electricity. So far, the decision has drastically lowered its power bill.
“Right now our billing cycle is around $3,000 a month where as a year ago our bills were spiking up to about $30,000,” Soiland tells Aggregates Manager. “It’s saving us a tremendous amount of cash flow, but we won’t really know the exact amount until we get to the end of the 12-month period.”
The company currently has 33 20-foot-square articulating arrays of solar modules, which are fully operational on two acres of the quarry. While a number of aggregate operations have installed solar panels, the new “sun-following technology” on these panels allows them to better capture solar energy. The system at Stony Point Road is rated to produce just under 300 kilowatts.
“It’s a fantastic system,” Soiland says. “It’s not a standard solar, it’s a dual-access tracker system which is essentially 40 percent more efficient than a typical system.
“We sized the system to take care of the processing needs of this property.”
Soiland’s company isn’t done yet. It has had such good results with its current solar platform that it plans to triple, or even quadruple, the size of its solar field over time.
Unfortunately, solar power at a quarry doesn’t come without its challenges. Although the solar array can handle typical operating demand, it can’t handle times when up to 700 kilowatts of electricity is needed. So the company decided to take advantage of a grant through the California Solar Initiative for a battery system capable of producing up to approximately 280 kilowatts, demand switchgear and service panels installed between the solar field and the grid delivery panel.
The battery will arrive sometime in the fall.
The company hopes the battery will eliminate the need to use extra electricity from the grid during peak operating times.
If you’re looking to purchase a solar setup similar to the one at Stony Point Rock Quarry, it will set you back $1.16 million. The quarry’s setup was funded through a traditional seven-year lease and offset by government tax credits. The company also had a smaller solar system installed in 2007 to offset office use.
“The lease was zero dollars out of pocket for all of the equipment we would need to power all of our rock crushing and processing gear,” Soiland says.
Soiland isn’t afraid to make investments and he’s always looking for new ways to improve the operation that has been in his family for four decades.
“My family has owned this operation for 41 years,” he says. “We have been family operated since the late 1990s.”
In addition to Stony Point Rock Quarry, Soiland owns two other operations, Soils Plus and Grab N’ Grow.
“We have two more operations. One of them is a quarry/major soil production facility. The other is a retail landscape supply facility that concentrates on compost soil and bark products.”
Soils Plus is a quarry and major soil production facility in Sonoma, CA. Grab N’ Grow is a retail landscape supply facility that concentrates on manufacturing and selling soil, compost, and bark products in Santa Rosa, CA.
Although the solar panels at Stony Point Rock Quarry were big-ticket purchases, all three of the operations owned by Soiland take extra measures to cut costs.
“We recycle water more so than the average company,” Soiland says. “We have a recycled water system where we capture ground water and storm water and we use it for dust control and plant process water.”
“We also have a high-volume delivery and high-pressure dust suppression system on the crushing plant. And our compost facility uses reclaimed water for its processing.”