Cover Story - June 18, 2008

Ron Newdoll's enterprises go solar

Newdoll Enterprises of North Fair Oaks earns county Green Business certificate. His Edison Technology Park is totally powered by the sun. He also runs an art gallery.

by Marion Softky

For Ron Newdoll of Woodside, going solar is a no-brainer.

The results of that conviction are highly visible over in North Fair Oaks, squeezed between Edison Way and the railroad tracks. Almost an acre of bright blue solar panels covers the roofs and provides shade to Newdoll Enterprises and Mr. Newdoll's Edison Technology Park.

"We have a 400 kilowatt photovoltaic solar installation that provides 100 percent of the power requirements for an 85,000-square-foot industrial center with four buildings," Mr. Newdoll says. "One hundred percent of our electricity and power comes from the sun."

In April, Newdoll Enterprises, which designs and manufactures solar power equipment, earned one of San Mateo County's first Green Business certificates for unincorporated areas.

Kim Springer, resource conservation manager for the county's RecycleWorks, admires Mr. Newdoll for his unique relations with his tenants. "Ron works with his tenants as a community to conserve resources, whether it's recycling, energy efficiency, or water conservation," he says.

Mr. Newdoll wants his next building to be the greenest in the Bay Area. Due to start construction this year just south of the current four, the 40,000 square-foot building will incorporate solar heating and air conditioning, generation of electricity from excess steam, capturing rain water for landscaping and toilet flushing, and maximum use of recycled materials. "So nothing's wasted," he says.

"We're shooting to make it a LEED Platinum building," Mr. Newdoll says, referring to the top rating in the green building rating system known as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

Mr. Newdoll's passions are contagious. They extend far beyond the solar future, to music, technology and art. Over a long career, he's been a radar expert and has run a company for 40-plus years that still builds recording equipment and studios around the world.

Newdoll Enterprise's main office at 3515-B Edison Way opens into an art gallery. The visitor enters a large room ringed by elegant stone Shona carvings from Zimbabwe. The walls are splashed with bright paintings on biotech themes by artist Julie Newdoll, Mr. Newdoll's daughter.

Mr. Newdll's enthusiasm for all his projects seems boundless. "I'm so excited about what I do that it just bubbles over," he says.

Radar to music to solar

Ron Newdoll grew up in the San Fernando Valley when it was still orchards and vineyards.

Ron joined the California Air National Guard when he was 17 and still in high school. A couple of training sessions in radar electronics at Biloxi, Mississippi, and a couple of years at Burbank City College launched young Mr. Newdoll into a career in radar.

In 1959 Mr. Newdoll found himself in Redwood City at Ampex. While there he met and married co-worker Agnes Leon, a Redwood City girl who dreamed of living in Woodside. He also began lecturing around the world under contract to the Air Force on the operation and maintenance of recording equipment.

In 1961, Mr. Newdoll was offered "a job I couldn't refuse" as a GS-13 (a high civil service rank) with the Air Force at San Angelo, Texas. "I was 23," he says.

Mr. Newdoll hadn't been with the Air Force long before he started moonlighting. He set up a small recording studio.

"My first effort went gold — talk about luck!" he says, showing a framed gold 45 rpm recording of "The Last Kiss," a rock-and-roll song performed by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers, which sold at least two million copies. It hangs the wall of his office. "I still enjoy showing it to people. Sometimes they start singing it to me," he chuckles.

Mr. Newdoll's recording business, which became the company Accurate Sound, did so well that he could leave the Air Force, and eventually the young family moved move back to the Bay Area "We decided we weren't Texans at heart," he says.

"'The Last Kiss' got me interested in the music business," Mr. Newdoll says. Through Accurate Sound, now part of Newdoll Enterprises, he manufactured recording equipment and built recording studios all over the world. He has put in studios for household names like Ray Charles, the Mommas and the Poppas, and Joe South. "I still love the business," he says.

The Newdolls moved to Woodside in 1973. Their four children attended Woodside Elementary School and Woodside High School. They have two grandchildren and one on the way.

The Newdolls run the business as a team, Mr. Newdoll says. Ms. Newdoll does the accounting. They moved Accurate Sound from Texas to Fifth Avenue in Redwood City, where they manufactured equipment and put in a recording studio.

In 1978, Mr. Newdoll bought the commercial complex on Edison Way, and in 1980 he moved in. The complex expanded with two new buildings in the 1980s. Now it has 30 tenants in 50 spaces. "We're full," Mr. Newdoll says.

Mr. Newdoll loves his tenants; it appears his tenants like him. "They never want to leave unless they're forced to," he says. "There's a synergy."

Tenants at Edison Technology Park range from contractors and a patent attorney to a landscape architect, high-tech companies in electronics and biotech, and Dieter's German Car Repair.

It was later that Mr. Newdoll was bitten by the solar bug. He took note as the government and PG&E began providing more incentives to install solar power. His passion for high tech kicked in.

"I ran the numbers and decided that putting solar on the roof was a good fiscal move," he says. "It would also benefit the environment."

Advancing solar

During 2004, Edison Technology Park installed more than 2,388 solar modules from three different manufacturers on the roofs of its four buildings, and wired them into the electrical system. They produce almost 400,000 kilowatts of peak power, and generate 570,000 kilowatt hours of renewable electricity a year, according to a company brochure.

Electric meters that run both forward and backward symbolize Newdoll's complicated relationship with PG&E. The meters run forward in winter when the complex is using more power than it generates. In summer, the solar system exports enough energy to power more than 100 homes in nearby Atherton and Redwood City neighborhoods, the brochure explains.

Once a year the bill is "trued up," Mr. Newdoll says. The problem is that the Newdoll complex pays PG&E for the power it buys in the winter, but PG&E doesn't pay for the power it gains in the summer.

"They don't even say thank you. We just lose it," he grumbles. "There's no incentive to install more solar because they won't pay you for it."

Mr. Newdoll is supporting new legislation so PG&E, or other electric companies, will have to pay the producer for power delivered to its system.

While the economics of installing solar power were favorable for Mr. Newdoll, they may be tougher for other businesses, be notes.

Mr. Newdoll had two advantages that a more struggling company might not have. He grew up with a family of contractors, so he was familiar with construction. He was able to be his own general contractor, he says. And he is a saver and had the resources to put in a $3.6 million facility. He also took advantage of rebates, tax incentives, and accelerated depreciation.

"At the end of five years I will recoup my investment," he says. "And for the next 25 years I have free electricity."

Mr. Newdoll still recommends that other businesses try to go solar — if they have a roof that is capable of supporting solar panels. "In my opinion, it's a no-brainer to put solar on the roof." he says. It might take 10 years to pay it off, but "you still have 20 years of free electricity."

At Edison Technology Park

In front of Mr. Newdoll's office, along Edison Way, a tall control panel topped by solar panels has been set up to test what he calls a new "smart card." This is one of several pieces of equipment being developed by Newdoll Enterprises to optimize the performance of solar panels and associated equipment.

"We've installed 48 solar panels, 24 with the new smart card and 24 without, so we can compare the improvement with the smart card," Mr. Newdoll explains.

Newdoll Enterprises LLC was formed in 2007 to develop and manufacture products that will harvest the greatest amount of power from the sun with the greatest efficiency, Mr. Newdoll writes. The company invents electrical devices that will improve solar inverters and solar panels, and better monitor the operations of solar systems.

A visit to Mr. Newdoll's newest tenant shows how they work together for greener products in a greener environment.

Peter Sharer, CEO of Agilewaves, loves the remodeling of his new labs. "It is important for me that our space lines up with our values," he says.

Agilewaves has developed a "Resource Monitor" to measure consumption of gas, water, and electricity in homes and businesses, calculate the carbon footprint, and display the information live on a touch-screen or Web page.

Mr. Sharer, who rides a scooter to work from his nearby home in North Fair Oaks, points to new green features in his bright working quarters lit by a skylight and high-efficiency lights. There is flooring made of cork; the Shaw carpet is both recycled and recycleable; the linoleum is actually made of linseed oil. And the paint is free of volatile organics. "That's good for the guys who do the painting and good for our guys," he says.

Mr. Newdoll is also enthusiastic. "I'm going to encourage Peter to apply to the county for a Green Business certificate," he says.

And there are many more ideas where these came from. "We're in expansion mode," says Mr. Newdoll eagerly. "We never quit. We just go on and on and on and on."



Posted by M. Green, a resident of another community
on Jun 23, 2008 at 7:50 am


Posted by Bill Golden, a resident of another community
on Feb 17, 2009 at 1:39 am

That Ron Newdoll would be doing what is best for everyone is no surprise to me. As a young man in San Angelo, Texas Ron had a significant impact on my life. Ron is one of those guys like you almost never meet! Ron always talked about doing you're very best, doing what is right and always remembering that you are the person you had to look at in the mirror each morning.

Ron always set the bar pretty high! He was a "task master" to everyone around him but more so on himself. I will always be grateful for the advice and counsel he provided to a young, impressionable teenager. While my life took a different turn (I am now a practicing CPA in Roswell, New Mexico) from electronics, the basic knowledge of electronics benefited greatly as the accounting profession was married to computers in the 80s and 90s.

While I have not seen Ron for almost 40 years, I still remember the principles he held so dear and openly for everyone to see. There was no mistaking Ron's position and you almost new he was almost always right.

Thanks again Ron,

Bill Golden
Roswell, New Mexico

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