A second-hand retailer may seem an unlikely place for a high-tech project, but owner Rob Giroux says the renewable energy source makes sense for his business’ philosophy.
“For us as a thrift store, everything we sell is recycled or used,” he said. “And now we’re recycling energy.”
Giroux has had a fascination with solar power since the eighth grade, when he made a solar water-heating science project. But he decided to pursue solar panels for his business after he noticed the technology’s prices had dropped. At the same time, he was looking for ways to lower expenses for the massive 26,000-square-foot building with 30-foot ceilings. The store racked up $32,000 in Dominion Power bills last year; back in 2005, Giroux remembers paying about half that.
Solar power systems were once considered niche products. But as the industry has advanced, the technology has become more affordable. System prices have dropped by about two-thirds since 2010, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a national trade group. Today more homeowners and businesses are choosing solar power systems. In 2015, $28 million was spent on installations throughout Virginia, according to SEIA, increasing the solar capacity 86 percent. The state has about 22 megawatts of solar installations.
In January, prior to going solar, Giroux replaced the entire store’s lighting – between 600 and 700 bulbs – with light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. The energy-efficient lights cut his electric bill about 30 percent, he said. Then, this month Convert Solar, a Virginia Beach-based company, constructed the rooftop solar panel system. The equipment and labor came to about $223,000.
A federal tax credit shaves 30 percent off that. Giroux got a low-interest loan to finance the project, with an estimated payback in five years. His payments, he said, will be slightly higher than what he was spending on his regular electric bills. After the initial costs, he expects his annual spending to fall below $5,000.
“People just have these preconceived notions that it doesn’t make (financial) sense,” Giroux said.