Middle Tennessee business goes solar to promote energy efficiency and saving money

July 14, 2011

Article provided by Tennessee Solar Institute

With solar installations popping up throughout Tennessee, many businesses have seen the advantage of harnessing the power of the sun to help manage their utility costs. Any company trying to meet a bottom line can sympathize with trying to keep heating bills low, particularly during the cold winter months when energy usage can be at its highest.

But what’s your motivation if you have a 28,000 square foot facility and your heating bill for the entire winter averages less than $95 a month? 

That’s not a typo. Freedom Plaza, the headquarters of Cookeville-based J & S Construction, averaged $94.76 per month in heating costs in 2008–2009, its first winter of operation. With a heating bill that low, it should come as no surprise that one of the primary areas of focus for J&S Construction is working with companies to produce projects that are truly energy efficient.

While touting energy-efficient construction is one thing, having the hardware to back it up is what makes  J & S stand out. They are currently the only contractor in Tennessee to be awarded LEED Platinum, LEED Gold, and LEED Silver certifications on buildings they have constructed. Note: Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) is an internationally-recognized green building certification system. (Source: US Green Building Council, www.usgbc.org)

“We really went solar for two reasons," said John Stites II, CEO of J & S (pictured, talking with an employee). “Number one, frankly, was the availability of the grants from the Tennessee Solar Institute and the USDA. When we combine the Solar Installation Grant and the UDSA grant with the tax credits and accelerated depreciation, our solar install will pay for itself in about two years. While we were going solar regardless, the grants did make the process much more attractive.” Stites continues, “Number two, we are a very green company to begin with. Part of our mission is to show people and our clients that being more energy efficient can also be cost effective, particularly over the long-term lifespan of a facility.” 

He concedes that for more businesses to seriously consider installing solar, it has to be financially feasible. He points out, however, that over the first 40 years of a building’s lifespan, only 11% of the cost is in the initial construction, and only 14% is financing and interest. “While the front end is what a lot of businesses look at, they need to be aware that 75% of the cost of a building over that 40-year period is in maintenance and upkeep, including utilities. The amount of savings in the life cycle cost is equal to the total initial cost of the project. In effect, the owner of the facility would get 100% of his investment back by only saving 15% (in utility costs), which is not that difficult to accomplish. Smart building on the front end can save a lot of money over a building’s useful life.” 

Funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 through the Department of Energy and the State of Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development was one part of the funding that allowed J&S to construct its array. The 37.5 KW ground-mount system, comprised of 168 solar panels, is a sight to behold, stretching the entire length of the parking lot behind their facility. More than just an energy producer, it is also a model to use for marketing purposes. “We purposely made our solar array a ground-mount unit, so our clients and prospective clients can see it,” said Stites, “and it’s a very strong visual of one more tangible way that J&S focuses on energy efficiency.”

“We know that, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how energy efficient a project is if it’s not cost effective. But, it doesn’t have to cost more to go green” said Stites. He encourages businesses to look beyond just the short term when figuring out if solar is right for them. Also, Stites says, look to bottom-line results. “For example, only 32% of LEED points (towards receiving LEED certification) have anything to do with energy efficiency.”

J&S boasts a list of completed projects across Tennessee and the southeastern United States that would make any construction company green with envy, from a $13 million project for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Fort Campbell to a project that included the installation of solar panels on the airport hangar of two A-list country music stars in nearby Nashville.

The reason for J & S Construction’s success? At the end of the day, Stites says, it’s all about customer satisfaction. He cites the company’s stellar reputation, as shown by the fact that, since 1990, over 75% of their projects are with repeat customers and over 99% of J&S clients say they would refer J&S to others for construction projects. They take pride in producing high-quality, energy-efficient projects. 

To view article on Tennessee Solar Institute’s website, Click Here

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