Once just a way to warm your home or pool, solar power is gaining ground in the self-storage industry. Read about two facilities that grabbed the opportunity to save some kilowatts and rally around Mother Earth.
As the chief operating officer for Storage Investment Management, Charlie Fritts always has his eye on ways to save energy and cut costs. So when the opportunity to slash one of his facility’s energy expenses came along, he jumped at the chance. A year ago, he came across a program from the Connecticut Clear Energy Fund, part of the Department of Public Utilities Control, which offers grants to offset half the cost of products that use renewable resources such as wind, small hydro and landfill gas.
After some research, Fritts applied for the grant to install solar panels at Planet Self Storage in Newington, Conn., one of 31 properties Storage Investment Management either owns or operates. “The technology has finally become feasible for a company our size to handle,” Fritts says. “Previously, it was relatively not too expensive to do to the home but, in our case, it finally came down to a reasonable design and engineering cost.”
With the grant footing half the bill—about $256,000—the panels were installed on the single-story, 770-unit facility in February. Fritts is already seeing the benefits. The solar power provides 30 percent of the facility’s overall usage, including all electrical components such as lights, cooling and gate operators.
Conrad Watson, owner of Storage Plus in Waltham, Mass., also took advantage of a government program to outfit one of his storage facilities with solar panels. Massachusetts’ citizens interested in renewable energy resources once had to wrestle through an enormous amount of red tape. But Gov. Deval Patrick changed all that, streamlining the state’s solar energy program, making it easier for businesses like Storage Plus to get rebates for energy-efficient upgrades.
Installation for the system cost $45,000, offset by the $19,240 state rebate. “This made it very affordable,” says Watson, who will recoup his investment in about three years. Storage Plus will also gain tax credits. “With the price of utilities skyrocketing, not to mention the greenhouse gasses in the environment, those are the main reasons I wanted to do this,” Watson says. “It really wasn’t feasible before now.” The panels will generate 6,900 watts of power an hour. In addition, Watson is looking into generating heat using vertical-mounted solar panels on the side of the building.
Storage Plus took another leap toward becoming a more energy-efficient facility when Watson purchased three Toyota Prius Hybrids. A large portion of the facility’s business is records storage, and because the company offers pickup and delivery, fuel and oil has always been a big concern.
“We were using a van, which only got about 7 or 8 miles per gallon,” Watson says. The company re-evaluated the deliveries, discovering most were small and capable of being completed in a smaller car. Watson then made the decision to purchase the Priuses, which get up to 50 miles per gallon. “We’re saving an enormous amount of money plus helping the environment,” he says.
While Fritts agrees paying for a solar power system is often a hefty price upfront, the long-term benefits make it worthwhile. “We’ll have a return on our investment that makes this financially feasible to do,” he says. “We see it monthly in our power bill. Some months, we have a credit on our bill. But other months, when it’s cloudy and we’re using more energy, or in the winter months when it’s dark, we’ll use more energy.”
The power Planet Self Storage generates goes beyond helping just that facility. Solar power doesn’t act as a battery, storing energy for later use. Instead, the power is transmitted back into the power company’s power grid, which benefits the community as a whole. “The power plants then don’t have to burn coal or run turbines,” Fritts says. “They can produce less power because it’s being supplied by other sources.”
Because more cities and states are becoming environmentally minded, Fritts advises self-storage owners interested in solar power first check for government or utility company programs with rebates or grants to offset the cost of the system. And you don’t have to purchase a solar system to create a more energy-efficient facility. There could also be programs, rebates or incentives for other changes, including something as simple as changing the type of lighting you use in your building. “There are a lot of programs out there. You should check with your community and your power company to see what’s available,” Fritts says. “It doesn’t all have to come out of pocket.”
One obstacle you may come across is finding a contractor who can properly install solar panels. “This is not your everyday thing,” Fritts advises. “You have to find a contractor who has done solar. It isn’t something your local electrician can handle.”
Overall, going solar is exactly what Fritts had hoped for. “It’s a good thing to do and it’s a financial investment.”