Nella Oil Honored for Using Solar Energy to Fuel Stations

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Nella Oil Honored for Using Solar Energy to Fuel Stations

AUBURN, Calif. -- If the sun seems to be shining a little brighter at Nella Oil’s fueling stations, it may be a reflection of their award-winning solar power systems.

A recent recipient of the Business Environmental Resource Center’s 2005 Pollution Prevention Award, Nella Oil was recognized for excelling in protecting the environment through pollution reduction. The Sacramento, Calif.-based BERC organization nurtures business success while fostering environmental quality by providing a free technical resource for companies, on behalf of local government. One of BERC’s objectives is to demonstrate that prudent environmental practices can equate to bottom line savings.

David Dwelle, one of the owners of the family owned and operated Nella Oil company, says electrical bills for the Flyers station in Newcastle were cut nearly in half when it installed a photovoltaic (PV) solar generation system on its roof three years ago, saving nearly $2500 in energy costs each month.

"The solar system is hooked up to the gas station’s electrical panel on our side of the meter," Dwelle explained. "When the sun is shining, the system turns that energy into electricity. That electricity then flows to the first point of usage demand, which is within the station."

Any excess electricity that is generated flows backward through the meter, into the utility company grid.

"We love to see that meter turning backwards because it means we’re generating more power than we’re using," Dwelle said, and reducing energy bills with each click of the counter.

Now, with 27 fueling stations throughout California serving as solar power hubs, Nella Oil is capable of generating and distributing 854 kilowatts of electricity. The company is planning a solar generation system at its 24,000-square-foot headquarters building in Auburn and expects to have PV systems in all 68 of its consumer sites within the next five years.

Nella Oil’s focus on utilizing solar electricity made it a top contender for BERC’s Pollution Prevention Award. With the installation of PV panels at Nella Oil’s two Sacramento fueling stations, 88 kilowatts of electricity now are being generated at those sites alone. Not only does that greatly lower their energy costs, it significantly reduces demand from other polluting sources of electricity generation, noted Rick Balazs, a senior environmental consultant at BERC. The use of the technology in such a high traffic, high profile setting helps promote awareness of local pollution-prevention efforts and demonstrates that it can be done -- and is being done -- across all business sectors.

"We’re proud to be acknowledged by BERC for our efforts in environmental stewardship," Dwelle said, "especially since we’re an oil company; an industry not known for being environmental leaders."

But for Dwelle, this is a personal mission. He first used solar equipment in 1982 to power a boat he planned to sail around the world. Later he added a PV system to his home, and purchased a hybrid automobile to reduce fuel consumption. When California’s energy crisis hit a few years ago, he pushed for installing solar electric generation equipment at the Nella company stores, taking advantage of PG&E rebates and federal incentive programs to offset the cost of initial installation.

"On the first one, we basically did it ourselves, just doing the best we could," Dwelle explained. "After we did a couple of them, we saw the potential to streamline the process and help others do the same."

Four years ago, Dwelle contacted old friend and business associate Mark Frederick, a general contractor, to kick around the idea of establishing a business that would focus on renewable energy sources. As partners, they founded Pacific Power Management (PPM), a company specializing in solar energy system integration. Since then, PPM has completed nearly 2MW of solar installations in California. The PPM office complex in Auburn is home to 250KW of solar electric equipment , offsetting its power bills by an average $7,000 per month.

"PPM is a natural outgrowth of what we had learned while installing the first systems at the Nella Oil fueling stations," Dwelle said. "And it fit with my personal commitment to energy efficiency and conservation."

This summer, PG&E presented Nella Oil with a rebate check for $131,082 for its latest PPM-designed solar installation. Since starting its solar generation campaign, Nella Oil has received nearly $2.5 million dollars from PG&E in rebate money. California is a leader in the nation’s use of alternative energy sources and Nella Oil is one of the companies in the state that has installed the largest number of solar photovoltaic systems, using the rebate and incentive programs.

"PG&E is proud to have partnered with Nella Oil on these projects that will provide environmental and financial benefits for years to come," said Beverly Alexander, vice president of customer satisfaction for the public utility. "This solar rebate represents one of the many ways in which PG&E helps our customers better manager their energy needs. PG&E has a long-standing commitment to energy efficiency, conservation and renewable energy, and applauds the owners of Nella Oil for their foresight."