by: Dave Flessner of the Chattanooga Times Free Press
When accountants at Henderson Hutcherson and McCullough take a break in their company lunchroom, they also see what a break the firm is getting on its electricity bill.
On a kitchen wall of the downtown CPA office, a web-based display screen continually shows how much solar power is being generated from the rooftop voltaic panels — and the equivalent number of trees being saved and automobile emissions being cut.
“It’s great to see how we’re making a difference,” said Donnie Hutcherson, managing partner for the accounting firm in the Freight Depot building in the 1200 block of Market Street that installed solar panels in April. “It’s been a good financial and environmental investment for us.”
Buoyed by generous federal, state, TVA and Greenspaces grants and loan guarantees, Henderson, Hutcherson and McCullough and eight other Chattanooga companies are finding a place in the sun this year to help power their businesses.
Collectively, the solar panels on top of 10 downtown buildings are projected to generate more than 250 kilowatts of electricity once they are installed by the end of October.
The solar systems represent the biggest concentration of rooftop solar generation in Tennessee, according to Barrett Taylor of Sustainable Future, the Knoxville-based company that is installing the solar systems.
When in full operation, the solar panels should generate enough power for the electrical needs of about 150 homes.
“We hope the success of these projects will demonstrate the potential of putting in even more solar panels on rooftops across the city,” Taylor said. “With the credits and grants available, there is a good return on this investment, and hopefully these units will continue producing power and making money for the building owners for many decades.”
Solar-friendly states such as California average more than 20,000 solar energy installations at a time, compared with only about 40 in Tennessee. To help spur more solar installations and consumer interest, the Chattanooga environmental firm known as Greenspaces helped arrange bank financing for many of the 10 downtown solar installations.
Each of the 10 rooftop solar installations costs about $180,000 to build and install. They will qualify for $75,000 each from the state through a Tennessee Clean Energy Technology Grant and will get another $56,700 from the federal government through a business energy tax credit.
TVA also is providing a $1,000 startup grant for such products and will buy back the power generated by the solar panels at a premium over the agency’s average cost of generation.
“Our out-of-pocket expenses for our system ended up at $47,300, which we expect we’ll be able to recover in less than five years,” said Ray Boswell, office administrator for Henderson Hutcherson and McCullough.
At the 212 Market restaurant near the Tennessee Aquarium, solar panels on the roof and canopy should help provide nearly a third of the power, according to restaurant co-owner Sally Moses.
The solar panels are expected to begin production at 212 Market in the next month as the latest in more than two dozen environmental initiatives the restaurant has made to become and remain a certified green restaurant by the Green Restaurant Association, she said.
“These are all easy steps that anyone can attempt but very few even consider in their daily lives,” Moses said. “We all can make a difference.”