Cloudburst Recycling Goes Greener with Solar

Cloudburst solar array under the east end of the Fremont Bridge.

Cloudburst Recycling, one of Portland’s earliest green companies, has recently gotten even greener.

This summer the waste hauler installed solar panels on the roof of their headquarters at 2223 N. Randolph St. in the Lower Albina industrial area. According to Cloudburst co-owner David McMahon, they will generate 62 percent of the plant’s electric consumption. In fact, in the first 80 days alone they generated one third of their 2009 electric consumption. McMahon adds, “The place used to be Pacific Power and Light’s headquarters, so virtually everything is electric.”

On the sunniest days, in fact, the electric generation exceeds Cloudburst’s needs; at those times the output is channeled to PP&L’s power grid for general public use.

This is by no means McMahon’s first use of solar technology; he and his wife Michela installed solar panels on their home at Northeast 10th Avenue and Brazee Street years ago. “I always wanted to put panels on Cloudburst, but the cost was prohibitive,” McMahon says. He found a way with the help of Sustainable Solutions; Cloudburst receives tax credits for the $153,000 improvement. “I feel a little guilty about that, but we are generating clean power in return,” McMahon says.

Since 2004 Cloudburst’s trucks have run on bio-diesel fuel, and while they cannot process the stuff themselves, they do collect the raw materials by recycling waste oil. “We’re trying to be as energy self-sufficient as we can,” McMahon says.

When the McMahons started Cloudburst in 1975, it was one of the first waste haulers to offer curbside recycling pickup. They were also strong advocates for the transition in waste hauling from a totally free market basis to a franchise system overseen by the city. For Cloudburst it meant a considerable sacrifice, abandoning a customer base of personal friends as committed as they to recycling to serving a geographic area populated by strangers. However, McMahon says, it was worth it for the public benefits. It ended efforts by large companies to drive the smaller ones out of business through price wars. It meant that each hauler served a geographically compact area, considerably reducing the amount of fuel burned. Most importantly, it made curbside recycling available to every Portland household.

They continue to walk their talk.