SOLAR ENERGY

Auto dealers join Central Texas solar power push

Posted October 13th, 2016

The region’s race to grow its solar portfolio got another boost this week, as two Central Texas auto dealerships announced they have installed renewable power projects at their facilities.

Covert Ford and Covert Chevrolet dealerships, both in Hutto and part of the Covert Auto Group, said their new solar array systems will let them reduce their environmental footprint while also saving on energy costs. The businesses plan to draw more than half of their power from the new solar panels.

Covert Ford said it is the first Ford dealership in Texas to move to solar power.

“This project is a major milestone,” said Bret Biggart, managing director of Austin’s Freedom Solar Power, which designed and installed the dealerships’ solar arrays. “It’s also unique because you don’t usually see Ford and Chevrolet dealerships right next to each other, yet alone under the same ownership.”

Covert Auto Group, which was founded in 1909, owns more than a dozen Austin-area dealerships.

The auto dealer's move into solar power comes after San Antonio-based H-E-B in August said it was implementing solar projects at 20 of its Central Texas stores. The $10 million project made H-E-B the region’s largest private owner of solar power systems.

Meanwhile, two major solar power companies — San Mateo, Calif-based SolarCity, which designed and installed H-E-B’s solar panel systems, and Provo, Utah-based Vivint Solar — started offering installation services in the Austin market last month.

Vivint Solar executives say Texas has some of the largest solar power potential in the country, as the state’s solar capacity grew by more than 60 percent last year.

“Solar is a financially and environmentally beneficial energy solution that is becoming a mainstream energy source for homeowners,” said David Bywater, interim CEO of Vivint Solar.

For Covert’s operations in Hutto, each dealerships has a 60-kilowatt array for a combined 120 kilowatts from 384 solar panels. The systems are expected to offset 53 percent of each dealership’s energy needs, executives said.

“Electricity represents a large monthly expense for us and solar exponentially helps reduce that expense,” said sales manager Dan Covert.

The dealerships invested nearly $200,000 in the project and received a 30 percent federal tax credit. Executives say the project is expected to pay for itself in less than four years.

“It makes a lot of sense for auto dealerships, who own their buildings and want to lower operating expenses, to go solar,” Biggart said.

In a highly competitive market, auto dealers are positioned to benefit from solar energy in numerous ways, said Kyle Frazier, Freedom Solar’s director of sales. Nationally, auto dealerships combine to spend about $2 billion annually on energy costs, according to the National Auto Dealers Association.

“Today, more automotive dealers are turning to solar as a way to alleviate energy expenditures, which are a direct result of energy-intensive, air-conditioned showrooms and highly-lit lots accompanied by long operating hours,” Frazier said. “Dealerships are not only looking to reduce their operating costs and boost margins, but also to build a more sustainable future for their business.”

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