Kern County Fairgrounds goes to ‘great lengths to go green’
Gregory D. Cook
October 7, 2009
Filed under Features
It’s not something most people think about while they eat their corn dogs, but as they wander around the fairgrounds, taking in all the fair has to offer, they are actually touring one of the environmentally greener places in the county.
The Kern County Fairgrounds has gone to great lengths to go green. The fairgrounds have installed a state-of-the-art photovoltaic, or solar power, system. It diverts a large amount of its solid waste away from landfills, and is looking to the future for ways to do even more.
Bill Blair, CEO of the 15th District Agricultural Association, the organization in charge of the fairgrounds, explained that in 2007, as part of a project with the California Construction Association and Pacific Gas and Electric, the fairgrounds got the opportunity to install solar power panels on the roofs of the livestock barns as well some of the other buildings on the fairgrounds.
“We have six inverter stations now running off the panels,” said Blair. “And we’re able to produce just shy of 400kw of electricity.”
“There are now probably about 40 fairgrounds in California that have photovoltaic systems,” said Blair. “We were kind of lucky in that we were in the second phase of the project, and we were able to get the next generation solar panels.”
The cost of bringing the system to the Kern County Fairgrounds was around $2 million. “PG&E had grant money available,” said Blair. “So we were responsible for about half of that.”
Blair stated that the balance of the money would be paid with what the system saves the fairgrounds on its yearly electric bill.
“Our system is designed to save about $100,000 a year based on electricity prices a couple of years ago,” he said. “That money that we save will be put toward paying off the loan for the system.”
In addition to saving the fairgrounds money, the system is also able to send electricity back out onto the power grid.
“There are some months during the summer that the meters run backward and our bill is a negative number,” said Blair.
The system is also very low maintenance. “We perform daily checks on the inverters to make sure they are all working,” said Blair. “And once a month we use a special water truck to clean the panels.”
Solar power is only one area in which the fairgrounds is working to help the environment. The fairgrounds are mandated by the California Integrated Waste Management Board to divert at least 50 percent of its total trash from landfills.
“We currently exceed that mandate,” said Blair. “Our diversion is 85 percent.”
This is accomplished by aggressive recycling efforts. Trash is sorted and anything that is recyclable is separated and sent to recycling centers, and all of the fairgrounds’ green waste is composted off-site.
Besides being good for the environment, Blair points out that going “green” is good business. “When the loan for the solar power system is paid off, all that money we save stays right here at the fairgrounds,” he said. “And by diverting all that waste we save a lot on garbage fees.”
Also, this year the fairgrounds has welcomed Dr. Solar and his Good Time Sunshine Medicine Show to perform during this year’s fair. Dr. Solar uses magic tricks, ventriloquism and humor to educate people about how pollution and excessive waste is harmful to the environment. His show, which is loosely modeled after an old western medicine show, extols the virtues of renewable solar energy, and he performs his show from a wagon that is solely solar powered.
Looking to the future, the fairgrounds, in conjunction with Price Disposal, is initiating a pilot program this year to explore food composting. At several locations on the fairgrounds, there are special recycling bins marked for food waste. The trash that is collected in these bins will be weighed to find out if it is feasible to start a food-composting program.
“We are always trying to improve. It’s good for the environment, and we just want to do it,” said Blair. “And we’re very proud of that.”