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California Sun

CaliforniaSunWith raw crushed stone supplied from sister company's solar-powered aggregates plant, the new Northgate Ready Mix operation builds on its reputation as being environmentally sound

In the small town of Windsor, Calif., about 11 miles from Santa Rosa, near the heart of the state's wine country, sits the 1.5-acre site of Northgate Ready Mix. Located by a ramp coming off the Highway 101 corridor, it is a prime location for a new plant trying to tap into as much local business as it can in its first year of operation.

Although the location and plant are new, the name is not. In July 2010, Dean Soiland, the principal in Santa Rosa-based aggregate producer BoDean Company partnered with brother Troy in purchasing the seven-year-old Northgate. "We bought an established brand, the goodwill that company had built up, the customer list, even the Yellow Pages ad," explains company President Troy Soiland. "Then we permitted and built a new plant in a new location and simultaneously switched our aggregate sourcing to BoDean."

Because of the still struggling economy, Northgate was able to buy the company, a new plant and relatively new trucks at extremely reasonable prices, according to Troy. "Anyone looking to buy anything from a manufacturing company now is going to get a great deal," he says. "And we felt that having high-quality aggregates was a reason to get into the ready mixed business."

Troy said that despite the environmentally vigilant reputation of Northern California, the particular location the company chose to build the new plant was in an industrialized section of Windsor and had been permitted previously for a similar operation. "We're basically in one of the few places that we could get permitted," he said. "And you have to remember that small towns are also looking to stimulate business as well, and Windsor has been very welcoming."

While the market area surrounding Northgate did not fall victim to overbuilding during the residential boom of the early 2000s, Soiland does not believe this will mean housing will be a springboard to recovery in the coming years. Northgate’s products, processing facility and weighing systems have been approved by Caltrans, the county of Sonoma and the city of Santa Rosa for public projects.

With 10 employees and a fleet of 11 mixer trucks, the firm is poised to benefit from a number of jobs on the horizon. "Some big [publicly held] builders purchased foreclosed unfinished homes and properties, and some of those are slowly beginning to build those up," he says. "What we are seeing is a fair amount of custom green homebuilding, and people doing that love that the materials for their concrete comes from a 100 percent solar-powered aggregate plant." (See sidebar on Page 30.)

Additional business is coming from wherever Northgate can find it, everything from low-income, subsidized housing in Sonoma County to 40-unit senior living centers to shopping centers. Soiland says public spending has been particularly noticeable courtesy of a new sewage treatement plant in the area. "We're also getting a fair amount of work from the small guys doing work that doesn't require permits, such as sidewalks and patios.”

One regular customer Northgate is especially excited about is precaster KriStar Enterprises, which has developed a specialty stormwater management system that filters gutter water through custom-designed tree pods. Soiland says, "This is a product shipping nationally, and we're supplying the ready mixed. This filter is considered a green product, and that ties in with our reputation as an environmentally friendly supplier and being one of the first using solar panels on a hillside quarry."

The Soiland brothers grew up in the building material business in Northern California. "We've been in this community all our lives," Troy explains. "My father, who is now in his 80s, had a pipeline company that he started in the 1970s. Eventually, he purchased the aggregates business, and when I was young, I worked in the quarry. Even when I was in college, where I graduated with a business degree, I worked summers in the quarry. The whole family is in the construction industry, but we only entered the ready mixed business a year ago."

The Northgate plant consists of a Stephens Manufacturing Falcon Plant with a Command Alkon control system. Although the plant has a rated capacity of 200 yd./hour, the facility has not needed it to run at that speed to date. "We consider 60 yd./hour a good clip, but we'd love to get the kind of business that would allow us to run it to 100–125 yd./hour," Soiland says.

Despite the somewhat mountainous terrain around the new operation, the company did not have to make any adjustments to its mixer trucks to handle the hills. According to Soiland, five of the plant's vehicles are nearly new Freightliner trucks with Allison automatic transmissions that can take the terrain easily.

Beyond the impressive low-shrinkage of its ready mixed—a result of the higher-quality aggregate—Northgate admits its product isn't that different from other local producers. What sets it apart in the minds of customers, according to Soiland, is the long-standing BoDean reputation. "We have been members of this community for four generations,” says Troy. “We have established goodwill. That's a portion of our success.

"BoDean is known as a well-run company with high-quality products and clean, well-managed operations. Our aggregates plant must meet demand and be on demand, which is why we don't have a lot of stockpiles. Northgate is still young, but the larger players are gaining confidence in us in just the last year. All things being equal, some customers are going with us because they value quality and a clean operation. In terms of customer reaction, 90 percent couldn't care less about the environmentally friendly part of our operation, but to the 10 percent who do, it makes a big difference and makes them feed good that they are buying from a green producer."

Solar power, sustainable production, eco-efficiency...

BoDean's Mark West Quarry's formula for success

In 1989, Dean and Belinda Soiland of BoDean Co. took over a quarry in Santa Rosa, Calif.—a site that had been in various states of operation for more than 100 years—and began producing material using a portable plant. They probably never figured at the time that the quarry would one day feature the first aggregates plant in the world to be 100 percent reliant on solar power.

The Mark West Quarry photovoltaic system, which went live on May 9, will be capable of generating 1.17 million kilowatt hours of green energy per year. The electricity produced by the solar panels will offset the release of 1.8 million lbs. of carbon dioxide annually, which is enough energy to power 190 typical American homes for a full year.

Going solar not only made business sense, it fit into the company’s mission. “It is our desire to operate in an eco-efficient manner that is dedicated to sustainability,” General Manager Bill Williams said. “It does not make sense for us to continue to use fossil fuels to do this when we have the best energy source at our fingertips: the sun.”

If you discount the field of solar panels imbedded into the hillside adjacent to the quarry, on the surface, Mark West Quarry looks much like any other 750,000-tons/year aggregates operation in California. Production begins at the quarry face, where the company blasts twice per week on average. They do their own drilling and blasting, using an Ingersoll-Rand drill and Alpha Explosives. After a blast, Cat 988H loaders are used to move material from an upper bench to a second lower bench. Material is then moved via loader from the push pile to a Telsmith primary jaw crusher.

From the primary, material goes to a surge pile, where rock is routed to Remco and Telsmith secondary crushers for further reduction. The circuit also includes a wash plant, featuring a triple-deck screen and a spiral-paddle Greystone twin blade mill.

In keeping with its mission to operate in an environmentally responsible manner, wash water is recycled using a 100,000-gal., closed-circuit holding tank. From the wash plant, water goes to a Phoenix Process Equipment clarifying tank. A Diemme plate and frame filter press is then used to convert the sludge and fines to 1 ¼-in. x 1.5-meter-sq. cakes. Clarified water is returned to the 100,000-gal. holding tank for re-use.

Mark West Quarry makes a wide range of aggregates products and uses much of the material it produces at its Santa Rosa asphalt plant, and at Northgate Ready Mix, operated by Troy Soiland, Dean’s brother. The remainder of the material produced at the plant goes to local customers in the Sonoma and Napa county markets of California.

BoDean Co. owners, Belinda and Dean Soiland have made the BoDean Co. an industry leader in sustainability and eco-friendly mining operations. In addition to the use of solar, the company is also dedicated to the extensive use of recycled materials in its production process, as well as actively pursuing a managed reclamation plan that coincides with quarry operations.

According to Williams, there are six reasons the company chose to embrace solar power.

  • It makes economic sense.
  • Because of the federal grant program, the company is able to finance the system so that payments are equal to what they have been historically paying the utility.
  • They recognized that they would see an immediate improvement with cash flow because of Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) rebates over the next five years.
  • Tax depreciation associated with the equipment brings about a reduction in quarterly estimated taxes.
  • Energy costs continue to rise. In seven years the system will have paid for itself at which time its energy will be free and clear.
  • It is the right thing to do. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to crush, screen, wash and convey the rock product the company produces each day. Most of America’s electrical need is met by burning fossil fuels. By using the sun’s rays they are using a sustainable source that is clean.
  • As a company, they committed to sustainability and eco-efficiency.

Going to a solar-powered system took a lot of strategic planning and transition time. “We put the project out for bid in June 2010,” Williams said. “The actual construction began in late November 2010. Therefore, from start to finish, the project has taken approximately 10 months with five months of construction time. However, the vision for this project was in the works years earlier. Our vision for this project began in 2006 when we installed solar panels at our main office in Santa Rosa. Like many things, it started with a comment that seemed crazy at the time. If we had to do it all over again, we would not have waited. It does not seem crazy today.

“From a logistical standpoint regarding construction, the panels needed to be placed upon a steeply graded hillside,” Williams said. “To our knowledge, solar panels had never been placed upon a hillside as we were proposing. How were we going to place the piers for the racking system under such conditions? And how much was that going to cost?”