Norfolk thrift store installs enough solar panels to power at least 10 homes
- Jul 25, 2016 12:00 pm GMT
- 455 views
On a weekday in the middle of July, customers filled
None would know a construction crew was somewhere overhead, laying the finishing touches on a solar panel system, perhaps the largest owned by a small business in
Over four weeks, contractors installed a 130-kilowatt system, composed of 385 panels, on the roof of the
A second-hand retailer may seem an unlikely place for a high-tech project, but owner
"For us as a thrift store, everything we sell is recycled or used," he said. "And now we're recycling energy."
Giroux has had a fascination with solar power since the eighth grade, when he made a solar water-heating science project. But he decided to pursue solar panels for his business after he noticed the technology's prices had dropped.
At the same time, he was looking for ways to lower his expenses for the massive 26,000-square-foot building with 30-foot ceilings. The store racked up
Solar power systems were once considered niche products. But as the industry has advanced, the technology has become more affordable. System prices have dropped by about two-thirds since 2010, according to the
Today more homeowners and businesses are choosing solar power systems. In 2015,
In January, prior to going solar, Giroux replaced the entire store's lighting -- between 600 and 700 bulbs -- with light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. The energy-efficient lights cut his electric bill down about 30 percent, he said.
Then, this month Convert Solar, a
A federal tax credit shaves off 30 percent of that. Giroux got a low-interest loan to finance the project, with an estimated payback in five years. His payments, he said, will be slightly higher than what he was spending on his regular electric bills.
After the initial costs, he expects his annual spending to fall below
"People just have these preconceived notions that it doesn't make (financial) sense," Giroux said.
Some of the notable systems in
Dominion has a 2-megawatt, 8,000-panel array on
Jobs as large as Giroux's, built for a small business, are a rarity. Wilkins called it "a feather in his company's hat."
"Most homes have 16 panels. Most small businesses might have twice that," McBreen said. "Three hundred eighty-five panels is a tremendous amount."
It's unusual for small businesses to go solar, McBreen said. For starters, unlike other states,
Another issue is whether the business owner leases or owns his space. A landlord might not be motivated to install solar panels if it's not his responsibility to pay the electric bill.
"The business owner would love to reduce his utility cost, but he doesn't own the building," McBreen said.
Giroux does own his store, rebuilt in 2005 after a severe fire. He's operated at the site for 14 years, and the store gives a portion of its proceeds to Seton Youth Shelters.
His only prior concern about the solar panels was whether the equipment would cause roof leaks. The mounts called for 4,000 screws, Wilkins said. So far, despite recent heavy rains, the roof has remained watertight.
Giroux plans to stream live data from the solar panel system on his website and a TV in the store so that customers can better understand the project.
He's also adding two electric car charging stations on the lot. Giroux, who doesn't own an electric car yet, said he will offer the charging to customers for free: "Maybe they'll plug in the car for an hour and buy something while they're waiting."
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