Graniterock’s Big Bill will soon be sharing ground with 15,000 solar panels

The Aromas Quarry is taking a big step towards energy independence.

In the granite rock quarry in Aromas, A conveyor belt more than a mile and a half long picks up the “spoil” – rock unsuitable for construction – from the quarry over hills and valleys to Big Bill, a massive brontosaurus-shaped machine that crawls it over the edge of a plateau spit.

Granite Rock was founded 121 years ago and operates the AR Wilson quarry. At approximately 1,000 acres and 120 feet below sea level, it is the largest quarry west of the Mississippi. Currently, the Big Bill and the conveyor belt, as well as most of the machinery on the premises, are powered by two 750-megawatt PG&E substations.

Usually a herd of grazing cows is the only thing keeping Big Bill company. For the past three months, engineers have driven the cows away installing solar panels as part of Graniterock’s $ 15 million investment in environmentally friendly technology.
“We’ve found that we can solidly, safely, and with approval place a 15,000-module solar array on the overload,” said Keith Severson, director of marketing and community engagement at Graniterock. “It will generate 5.3 megawatts of electricity that will power 60% of this quarry and take that much off the grid, which will benefit the Aromas community and the entire San Benito county.”

The panels will generate roughly the same amount of electricity that is used by approximately 1,350 households Association of the Solar Energy Industry.
The new solar project will be the second on the site. In 2018 Graniteock built a 1 megawatt solar park at the entrance to the quarry. It consists of 3,000 solar panels and generates 15% of the quarry’s electricity. It was the beginning of the company that worked towards better energy efficiency.

“We started with this little solar farm,” said Severson. “We have seen that we can do something like this successfully. That’s why we retrofitted the company headquarters in Watsonville, tinted the windows, changed the heating and air conditioning and put a solar system on the roof. This building was not laid out in green, but is now close to zero. I think the green development of companies will be similar to this. “

The project began three years ago when members of the newly formed Aromas Progressive Action League (APAL) met with Granite Rock to discuss ways in which the city and its surroundings can become a net zero community.

“Granite rock always comes to our Aromas Day celebration,” said APAL member Leslie Austin, “and that gave us the opportunity to speak to their representatives. And it turned out they were prepared for the interview and had already been working on plans for solar energy. Our goal was to help them connect with the people and companies who would need them for this big project. “

The 20 hectare plateau on which Big Bill stands, the location for the new solar park, was created by filling a valley with waste from the quarry: overburden and crushed granite particles. “Many years ago there was a group of Aromas residents who really stood up to the congestion in the valley,” Austin said. “But now it’s the perfect place for this type of project. There are no ways to protect, there are no animals to protect. It’s just dead soil, but it’s perfect compacted soil for something like solar panels. “

Severson agrees. “That’s the beauty of this plan,” he said. “There was really no negative impact on the environment. This was a large piece of reclaimed land that was only used for grazing cattle, and we moved it to lovely new green pasture. “

Besides moving the cows, the only work done in preparing the area for the solar panels was grading the overburden.

“We didn’t have to move a lot of dirt,” said Severson. “We just had to get the right slope so the panels were facing the sun most of the time and the water could drain away. The weather was good for us and we got it done on time by the end of March. We will be installing a new transmission line closer to where the electricity is needed. “

The project is expected to pay for itself in 15 years. According to Severson, the panels should last 30 years and can be swapped out as they age or could be completely replaced with currently available new technology.

“If this goes as planned, we look forward to expanding in the future,” said Severson. “Below the plateau there is an area that is only about native grasses. We would also like to build in this area so that we can be 100% taken off the grid – and maybe put something back into the grid. And the future could also include some battery capability so we can capture some of the power. “

The project is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2022.

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