SOLAR FIRM SELECTS SOUTH VALLEY FOR 300,000 SQUARE-FOOT WAREHOUSE

The Visalia Industrial Park snagged another high profile company this week as residential solar installer Sunrun agreed to lease a 300,000 square-foot industrial building on Riggin Avenue, across from Amazon. The building is one of two twin, tilt-up buildings recently completed by Visalia contractor BJ Perch and are ready for occupancy.

The buildings are owned by YS Buildings, LLC of Los Angeles. Agent for the company Freddie Molina says he has a signed agreement with the solar firm, which wants to start moving into the building right away. Molina continues to be active in building “spec buildings” — constructed before a tenant commits — in the Visalia Industrial park and plans more.

Molina says Sunrun will distribute solar panels and battery storage units used on homes across California. As for the number of jobs, no number has been confirmed. At least for now, Sunrun is not returning phone calls seeking more information. Both Fresno and Visalia brag they are strategically located mid-state to reach the Western US market in 2/3 days by ground transportation and one day to reach both the Bay Area and Southland. But Visalia had the availability of a large distribution building ready to lease — unlike Fresno, where supply is said to be limited.

Bay Area-based Sunrun is one of the nation’s top solar companies and the residential installation leader said to control about 25% of the market, according to Barron’s. Besides rooftop panels, the company now sells its rechargeable solar battery system, Brightbox, as of last year. Another recent development: In late 2020 the company announced the purchase of former rival Vivint Solar. Sunrun recently said it has more than 550,000 customers and an 18% year over year improvement including Vivint Solar. Besides installation of these energy units, SunRun is the largest provider of third-party-system finance for solar in the US.

Sunrun argues home owners will be better off with solar. “In December, PG&E, the largest utility in California, announced that customers will be hit with an average rate increase of 8%. Just this month many homeowners in Texas have been surprised with skyrocketing bills, many over $10,000. Utility rates have been increasing across the country, with retail rates in our markets increasing 3% per year on average for the last 15 year.”

In their most recent financial report, Sunrun raised its installed growth rate estimate to 25-30% for the year, and said that “the strong momentum that we saw in the fourth quarter has continued into 2021.” Sunrun maintained its position as the largest residential solar installer in the U.S. in the last quarter of 2019.

https://thebusinessjournal.com/solar-firm-selects-south-valley-for-300000-square-foot-warehouse/

2021’s Best California Wine Counties

California is the nation’s wine garden and wine cellar, but which counties produce the most award-winning reds and whites, host the most wine tours, and are most popular and affordable for wine connoisseurs to visit?

Is Napa County tops in all categories? Nada. Napa didn’t even produce the most award-winning wines in 2019-2020.

LawnStarter ranked California’s counties on the number of wine producers, wine tours, and award-winning wines. We also looked at wine tour reviews and the number and price ranges of hotels and B&Bs around the wineries.

Below, check out our ranking of wine counties in the Golden State, highlights and lowlights, and experts commenting on what makes California wines so special.

https://www.lawnstarter.com/blog/studies/best-california-wine-counties/#rankings

 

Why tech giant Samsung wants to give these Tulare school students thousands of dollars

A group of Tulare Union High School students recently took home top honors at the national Samsung Solve for Tomorrow engineering competition. The students, led by teacher Erik York captured the Community Choice Award for their device that uses artificial intelligence to alert drivers about other vehicles, approaching intersections, and traffic lights, among other features.

The Tulare-based robotics team finished the competition’s top 10 and, along with winning the Community Choice Award, claimed about $80,000 in prize money. “It still doesn’t feel real,” said lead student engineer Jayen Bhakta. “I’m still in shock that a company like Samsung has awarded us a win.” At least some of the prize money will help the school purchase laptops for students. The Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest is a national competition that gives students real-world problems to solve. Before entering the competition, York and his students experimented with artificial intelligence and felt the competition would be an excellent opportunity to flex their new skills.

STEM education is growing in importance in our country. According to the U. S. Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are growing at 24%, while other occupations are growing at 4%. STEM degree holders have a higher income even in non-STEM careers. STEM education also has other benefits. It teaches kids critical thinking, teamwork, and communication skills. “A big role of our STEM program is to expose students to the different careers that are available in STEM. Different aspects of engineering and manufacturing, so we are putting a lot of those skills and a lot of those job opportunities in the hands of the students. It’s a hands-on course where they are using a lot of the materials,” York said. “This is further than we initially thought we ever could go. We set the bar so that next year’s kids can hopefully go even higher and hopefully win the grand prize of $130k,” Bhakta said. “It’s an amazing feeling.”

https://www.fresnobee.com/news/local/education-lab/article251539018.html

Merced College breaks ground on new Ag complex

Merced College supporters and government leaders joined in with educators to break ground Wednesday on the 29,000-square-foot Raj Kahlon Agriculture and Industrial Technology Complex, kicking off construction of the first new building on campus in more than a decade. “Merced College has been educating students in agriculture and related fields for decades in the historically underserved San Joaquin Valley,” said California’s Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, who attended the event along with U.S. Rep. Jim Costa and State Assembly member Adam Gray. “Countless students in this region will benefit from this beautiful new space, and in turn they will bring benefits back to the region through their education and service. The future is bright in Merced.”

The ceremony highlighted the college’s flagship agricultural programs. Once moved into the state-of-the-art building, the program will be positioned to train more students for well-paying and plentiful jobs in agriculture, industrial technology, and other related workforce programs in this region. “This is a capital project many years in the making,” Merced College President Chris Vitellisaid. “As an agricultural community, and an institution of higher education committed to training our future workforce in ag and related industries, we are proud to provide this incredible new facility to better serve our students, faculty and partners.”

Assembly member Gray said: “This really shows what happens when state, local, and private resources all come together in the right way. Raj Kahlon’s generosity and President Vitelli’s leadership made this an easy sell. Working together, we brought then Lt. Governor Newsom down to tour Merced College and learn about this project firsthand. Just a few months later, we delivered by securing the final piece of funding in the State Budget. Sometimes we have to fight a little bit harder to get the recognition we deserve in the Valley, but in this case, I am proud to say we got our fair share.” Congressman Costa added, “It fills me with pride that Valley students who want to dedicate their lives to agriculture production will have a new, high-tech facility to hone their craft,” Costa said. “California agriculture feeds the world! I’m honored to have Lt. Gov. Kounalakishere to see how underserved students from the San Joaquin Valley have the opportunity to train for a career that has an impact across the globe.”

The Merced College Board of Trustees approved the $20,971,000 construction bid from F&H Construction out of Lodi on May 11. The full cost of the project will be $24,894,000. The Merced College AgIT building is a publicly funded project using $12.6 million from a 2002 local bond and $12.3 million in matching funds from the state via Proposition 51, a community college capital projects bond from 2016. Local farmer Raj Kahlon is contributing $5 million through a venture partnership with the college. It is the largest donation commitment in school history and the funds will go towards ongoing support of the agricultural programs. As a result, the complex is named after Kahlon. Construction is expected to take 15 months and should be completed in August 2022.

Darden Architects out of Fresno designed the complex on the northern edge of campus. Darden is a frequent collaborator with the College, having also designed the Plaza Project, the first phase of which was completed in 2019. The animal science, crop science, plant science and horticulture programs will move out of buildings original to the campus from the 1970s when they take up residence in the new AgIT building next year. The project will include new labs and an upgrade in training equipment for industrial technology programs in HVAC, industrial maintenance, electronics and computer networking.

Merced College ag department faculty, who had occupied offices in a handful of different buildings since the College opened, will now have a central home in the AgIT complex. The complex will also house conference rooms for staff and a dedicated room for agstudent leadership groups. There will be a courtyard area for events and a multi-use room that can accommodate large groups or be split into two classrooms.

https://mercedcountytimes.com/merced-college-breaks-ground-on-new-ag-complex/

Turlock-based solar company expanding quickly to meet demand

One of the nation’s fastest-growing solar energy companies has helped thousands across five different states make the switch to solar since it was founded in 2017, and its home office is right here in Turlock. Solar Energy Partners was first started four years ago by brothers Alex and Clint Williams along with Dave Madrid, who each had decades of experience in the solar industry already. The company offers a “white glove” service in researching, comparing, selecting and installing residential solar panels for customers, saving homeowners nearly $118 million since they first began.

SEP grew at an astounding rate of 500% during the pandemic, most recently announcing a merger with another solar company, The Standard — a move which will allow the company to expand its footprint into several other states in addition to those where they are already established, including California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Texas.  Though their corporate office is located in Turlock, SEP installs solar panels on homes whose owners are mainly Pacific Gas and Electric customers, Alex Williams said, as Turlock Irrigation District bills its customers for solar differently. TID customers with solar panels are billed according to a self-generation rate, which include time-of-use energy charges, whereas PG&E customers are able to see unused energy “rollover” to the next month.

In 2014, TID set a 5% cap for installed net metering meaning that once the limit was hit, new solar installations no longer qualified for the previous net metering program, which includes the opportunity to aggregate multiple solar systems or being netted on an annual basis.  “In Turlock, there are two groups of people who have solar,” Williams said. “They’re either in that original 5%, or they’re someone who wasn’t as worried about the economics of it and wanted solar so that they could be a part of the solution. Or, they’re just tech-savvy and want the latest solar technology. “Solar isn’t just the smarter way to do power financially for a lot of people, it’s the smarter way to do it period.”

As a result of the merger with The Standard, SEP now has 500 contractors throughout the five states where they operate, including California offices in Santa Rosa, San Jose, Stockton, Sacramento, Fresno, Bakersfield, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego in addition to Turlock. Recent figures released by NASA show that 2020 came in close second to 2016 for the hottest year in recorded history, pushing 2019 to third place. With the increased heat has come increased solar popularity, both for energy cost savings as well as environmental purposes, Williams said.

The company is also constantly recruiting employees for its rapidly expanding business, with most making up to $100,000 per year according to Williams. Projections from Allied Market Research predict that the solar industry should reach $223.3 billion by 2026, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 20.5% from 2019 to 2026.

While most looking to switch to solar energy are hoping for quick savings, Williams encouraged them to look at the long-term picture. “If you switch to solar because you want your bill to be lower next month you might be disappointed, but if you look at it on a longer scale the savings are there,” Williams said, noting most solar panels last up to 30 years. “Of course, on the 30-year scale there’s still a huge economic benefit to it, but the reality is that going solar is just the right thing to do. “If everybody just did the right thing, what kind of world would we live in?”

https://www.turlockjournal.com/news/local/turlock-based-solar-company-expanding-quickly-meet-demand/

Planned Merced ACE train reaches new milestone, bringing prospect of more tourism, new jobs

The long-anticipated Altamont Corridor Express train connection to Merced recently reached a new milestone, bringing the project another step closer to fruition. Last month, the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission released a draft environmental report outlining details of the planned ACE Ceres–Merced Extension Project.

Once completed, the Merced region will be connected via rail with the Bay Area and the Sacramento airport. “It’s a phenomenal project,” said Merced Mayor Matt Serratto. “You can go straight to a 49ers game on that train.” The Ceres-Merced Extension is part of the Valley Rail Program — a larger vision of several ACE extensions north and south. Three other ACE-related Valley Rail projects are currently in development to expand the ACE service.

The railway, Serratto said, will help streamline the city’s broader visions for developing downtown Merced, long-term economic growth, and bolstering tourism. ACE train service at new stations in Merced, Livingston, or Atwater, and Turlock may kick off operations as early as 2025, according to the environmental report. Expansion to Ceres and Sacramento County could be ready earlier, by 2023. Before any building begins, the final environmental report will be published and certified by the end of the year. Construction is projected to start in 2022 and wrap up in 2024.

The project will result in 26 miles of new track, three stations, infrastructure upgrades, and a 140,000-square-foot downtown Merced maintenance and layover facility. The facility would support train layovers, storage, maintenance, and extension operations. The downtown Merced facility is especially exciting to local officials. The biggest thing about the project overall, Serratto said, is the jobs that the facility will bring to the Merced area. “We would anticipate jobs being created there,” said ACE marketing manager David Lipari. “All these activities really create an industry here in the Valley.” The Merced station would be built downtown between R and O streets and include 380 parking spots.

When the project finishes, Merced-area passengers riding for business or pleasure will board two-story trains furnished with comfortable seating, ample electrical plugs, WiFi, and bike parking, Lipari said. The public can review the report and provide comments through June 7. In addition to enhancing regional connectivity, Lipari said the increased train service would help the Valley’s rising population of residents get conveniently to and from work — without adding more polluting single-passenger vehicles to already traffic-congested roads.

Merced County and the City of Merced, in particular, have each recently been distinguished as hot spots of population growth. Meanwhile, many California cities outside of the Valley and the state overall are seeing residents leave. “As our communities continue to grow, we need to become better at planning our transportation outside of expanding highway capacity,” Lipari said. “It (the train) is a clean, efficient way to get to work.” Going to work has taken on a new meaning during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many employees still working from home rather than commuting to offices. Ridership on both ACE and Amtrak trains plunged as low as 5%, and some commuter services were cut. While numbers are now steadily increasing, there is still a long way to go to reach normal passenger levels. Reaching that threshold largely depends on when employers and counties still promoting remote work policies revert to in-office work. But a recent survey of over 500 passengers showed that 92% intend to return to riding the train once they also return to in-person work, Lipari said.

https://www.mercedsunstar.com/news/local/article251674683.html