Business / Economy

Hollister healthcare center goes green

San Benito Health Foundation installs solar panels, retrofits lighting and moves to bioethanol generator.

Concerned about climate change and natural resources, San Benito Health Foundation Executive Director Rosa Vivian Fernandez had a vision to make her clinic more eco-friendly. During a Rotary Club of San Jaun Bautista meeting in summer 2018, she heard advice from Greenpower and the Aromas Progressive Action League about making workplaces environmentally sustainable. Fernandez said she knew she could make it happen. 

She told BenitoLink that the foundation had previously thought about solar, and after seeing what happened in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria she knew she wanted a system that would withstand a natural disaster. She received a few solar energy bids, but after hearing the presentation at the Rotary, she went a different route.

She entered into a contract with Greenpower, a non-governmental organization that assists with outreach and organizing for community choice energy (CCE). Greenpower assisted in the formation of Monterey Bay Community Power, a CCE program serving Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties.

According to Benjamin Eichert, director of Greenpower, San Benito Health Foundation is on its way to becoming a ”state-of-the-art” green building.

Work is being completed by general contractor Mynt Systems. Robert Hymes, who oversees the project, said that making the foundation sustainable is more than just retrofitting the electricity source. Changes to the clinic include installing solar panels and a more efficient HVAC system, retrofitting all lights to LED bulbs, and switching the generator from diesel to an ethanol fuel derived from compost.

“We are evolving and if something better, greener, can be done later we will do it,” Fernandez said of the generator. Though it now operates on bioethanol and is renewable, it still produces water and carbon dioxide as combustion byproducts.” Since composting itself reduces carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, Hymes said it will have a negative carbon footprint.

Project costs are expected to be around $4million, including $2M in building renovations to provide for a new training kitchen to help educate the community on healthy eating. According to Hymes, the new system should save the foundation $60,000 annually.

The foundation will be off the PG&E power grid by August, and the battery will be able to hold enough power for a week if there is ever insufficient sunlight to fuel the system.

Eichert told BenitoLink that the foundation will be the second health care facility in the state to be off the grid (the first is the Kaiser facility in Hayward). He said there is a lot of concern in health centers about PG&E’s proposed planned power outages.

Fernandez said the foundation will plant drought-tolerant plants to cut down on water use. She also said the foundation will be holding classes for staff and patients about how to recycle and put other sustainability habits into practice.

The foundation will hold an open house Aug. 14 to introduce the public to the building improvements.

A correction has been made to this article. The cost of the project was originally believed to be 4 million but BenitoLink was informed that the solar portion was only 2 million and that the 4 million total figure included additional work.


Carmel de Bertaut

Carmel has a BA in Natural Sciences/Biodiversity Stewardship from San Jose State University and an AA in Communications Studies from West Valley Community College. She reports on science and the environment, arts and human interest pieces. Carmel has worked in the ecological and communication fields and is an avid creative writer and hiker. She has been reporting for BenitoLink since May, 2018 and covers Science and the Environment and Arts and Culture.