Looking to the Sun for Savings

LAKE PARK — Schumacher Automotive Group took the next step in lowering its electric bill this week with the installation of a 33-kilowatt, 144-panel solar energy system on its service department building.

"We are trying to look for ways to cut costs so we can bring a better value proposition to our customers. Cutting our power is certainly one of those areas," said Chuck Schumacher, president of the 40-year-old company.

In 2009, the dealership, which also has a location in West Palm Beach, began tackling ways to decrease its electric bill of about $19,000 a month, said parts manager Marty Anderson. Florida Power & Light Co. conducted an evaluation and made recommendations.

Some light bulbs were eliminated. Motion sensors were added, and ceiling fans in the shop area were put on timers. Locks were installed on the air conditioning controls, Anderson said.

"We actually have saved about 40 percent," Anderson said. The location's goal is to reduce its electric bill to about $8,000.

The investment of more than $100,000 is offset by substantial Florida Power & Light Co. rebates as well as a 30 percent federal tax credit.

SuperGreen Solutions is installing the solar photovoltaic system that will generate an average of more than 200 kilowatts a day, said Sean Cochrane, SuperGreen's CEO.

SuperGreen, which opened its first showroom in the United States in North Palm Beach in June, is an offshoot of Allsafe Energy Efficient Products of Australia, which Cochrane started in 1993. Allsafe Energy Efficient Products has 11 locations in Australia and, like SuperGreen, provides energy-efficient solutions including, insulation, ventilation, skylights, solar power, solar hot water and wind power. SuperGreen Solutions also provides homeowners with simple tools to understand and control their energy usage that can result in increased energy savings.

"Normally, you get the solar power guy and the hot water guy. We look at energy savings from a holistic point of view," Cochrane said.

SuperGreen is part of a joint venture with West Palm Beach-based United Franchise Group, which is made up of Signarama, the world's largest full-service sign business; EmbroidMe, the world's largest embroidery franchise; Billboard Connection, a home-based advertising agency; Plan Ahead Events, a home-based event planning business; and TransWorld Business Advisors, a business brokerage and franchise development services firm.

Schumacher estimates the investment will pay for itself in six years, and if it works out as planned, additional solar will be considered.

"Some of this technology will improve," Schumacher said.

FPL spokeswoman Jackie Anderson said the Schumacher solar installation is one of the largest in South Florida, but not the largest. FPL has 18 commercial net-metering customers. Net metering allows FPL customers to earn a payback from connecting approved renewable generation systems - such as solar panels - to the electric grid .

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