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Rodeo grounds get a bit greener

OAKDALE -- At first glance, placing a state-of-the-art solar power system on the aging and weathered berm of the Oakdale Rodeo Grounds main grandstand might seem akin to developing a hybrid Edsel.

But the Oakdale Saddle Club isn't moving its show house anytime soon, and moving toward the green side of the energy grid not only makes environmental sense to the members, it's saving them a lot of money.

The 24-panel grid, capable of a 4.8-kilowatt peak output, was connected to the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. grid April 2. It won't replace the huge peak energy demand of events like the Oakdale Rodeo, but will offset between 20 percent and 25 percent of the saddle club's electricity consumption, saving the club as much as $5,000 annually.

"The combination of solar energy and rodeo is unique," said Mike Wagner, a saddle club director. "Whether you're a dyed-in-the-wool economist, a person who wants to save money or someone who wants to be completely with nature, nobody can criticize anybody else for wanting to save the planet. And no matter your thoughts on animal rights, this solar installation fits everybody's beliefs."

The saddle club installation has been underwritten by 1st Light Energy of Manteca, which saw the location along Highway 108-120 as a prime spot to advertise its solar services.

"We're trying to bring awareness to the rodeo fans and to the people of Oakdale, that you now can have energy independence," said Brady Anderson, sales manager at 1st Light Energy and an Oakdale High graduate. "Our thought was not just to capture the attention of the traffic here, but also to get across the message that this is feasible for your home."

Underwriting made club's project feasible

Had the saddle club attempted a solar installation on its own, one capable of this system's output would have cost the members about $34,000 before rebates and tax credits. Wagner said the upfront outlay would have made the project impractical.

On a recent breezy early afternoon, with temperatures in the mid-60s and clouds floating across the sky, the panels were producing 3.9 kilowatts. Because the club was empty, the vast majority of that power was being added to the PG&E grid, creating energy credits for the club.

"California has required all electricity providers to offer a net metering program, so any electricity you add to the grid is credited to your account," Anderson said. "You could be storing the credits, then drawing out those credits at night, on a cloudy day or in winter."

While the dream of making your power meter run backward is the holy grail of solar power users, the reality is that at the end of the year your electricity company will not be writing you a check for unused credits. On every anniversary date of panels tieing into the grid, solar credits are reset to zero.

As such, it makes little sense for anyone on the power grid to install a solar system capable of replacing 100 percent of their electrical needs, although Wagner is installing a system on his 21-acre ranch that will meet 95 percent of his power needs.

Anderson said the saddle club installation is roughly the size of what a homeowner would need to offset about 75 percent of a family's electrical needs. The feel-good aspect of going green is just an extra benefit.

"We're seeing that this is not only financially smart for the saddle club and local businesses to do this, but they're showing the community that they're thinking about the future and contributing to the environment," Anderson said.

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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