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Savannah business using power of the sun to cool beer, wine

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Solar panels began generating power for facility in November

  • The recently completed solar array on the rooftop of Savannah Distributing on West Gwinnett near I-516 is the second largest solar installation in Chatham County. Photo courtesy Hannah Solar.

Atop a west Savannah warehouse, the sun has been put to work chilling craft beers and fine wines.

Savannah Distributing Company Inc. partnered with Hannah Solar to install 342 solar panels on the roof of its 52,000-square-foot building that’s tucked into a wooded lot on West Gwinnett Street. The panels began generating electricity in November.

“It’s good for the environment and it’s good for the cost savings on the electric bill,” said Chris Peters, vice president and COO of Savannah Distributing.

Peters expects the panels to pay for themselves in about six years. The savings on the first electric bill after the installation was “fantastic,” he said.

“We initially projected a 40 percent cost savings but it was significantly higher,” he said.

The 113 kilowatt roof-mount system is expected to generate an average of 169,000 kilowatt hours annually, enough to power about 14 average homes. It’s the second largest array in Chatham County after the massive one on the IKEA warehouse, which at 1.45 megawatts (about 13 times larger than Savannah Distributors’ array) is the largest rooftop system in the state.

Warehouses, with their flat, exposed roofs, are especially ripe for solar. As with residential installations, there’s a 30 percent federal tax credit available to businesses that install solar. But businesses get an extra carrot, said Grant Tallon, regional business development manager for Hannah Solar. Through the federal Modified Accelerated Cost-Recovery System, they can recover solar investments through depreciation deductions over a five-year schedule, with a 50 percent first-year bonus depreciation.

When Tallon looks at west Chatham on Google Earth he sees sunshine and cost savings going to waste.

“It’s staggering how many rooftops don’t have solar,” he said.

The solar industry has been good for jobs nationwide and in Georgia, a report by the nonprofit Solar Foundation concludes. Its analysis indicates solar jobs grew nationwide by almost 25 percent last year, adding about 51,000 jobs. Georgia claimed nearly 4,000 of those positions. Median advertised pay for installers in Georgia topped $25 an hour and for sales people it exceeded $40 an hour, the report states. (A link to the full report is available at http://www.thesolarfoundation.org/)

Several suppliers for Savannah Distributing, including Asheville-based Highland Brewing Company and Austin-based Tito’s Handmade Vodka, have already gone solar, Peters said. And Savannah Distributing already uses alternative fuel, compressed natural gas, for its trucks.

“We’re proud that we’ve made the first steps toward a more sustainable future— and there’s still plenty of sunlit roof left for expansion,” Peters said.

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