Texas grocery chain H-E-B is taking a big step in using renewable energy, saying it has installed solar power systems in 20 of its Austin-area stores and two distribution centers -- and that it plans to grow the program even further.
The move makes San Antonio-based H-E-B — the dominant grocery chain in Central Texas — the largest private owner of solar power systems in the region. In all, the Austin-area H-E-B stores now have 11,364 panels able to produce 4.9 million kilowatt-hours of power a year.
The majority of the new Central Texas solar installations are ready to be switched on, and within a few days the last few systems will be ready as well, according to the company.
H-E-B said it is spending $10 million on the project.
Austin was the perfect place to kick off the solar energy campaign, company executives said.
“We decided to dedicate our resources within one community at our H-E-B stores in Austin where we can make significant difference in the way we use energy,” said George Presses, H-E-B vice president of fuel and energy. “Austin is a community that embraces renewable technology, and the benefits of reducing the energy we draw from the electric grid are going to be immediate and real to Austin residents and the surrounding communities.”
H-E-B says it plans to add more Texas stores to the solar panel campaign in the coming years. The company has annual sales of more than $23 billion and operates more than 370 stores in Texas and Mexico. The retailer employs than 86,000 people in Texas and 9,000 in Mexico.
The solar installations at Austin-area stores and distribution centers in San Marcos and Temple will bring the retailer’s overall solar program to energy production of 12.1 million kilowatt-hours a year at 23 locations.
The Austin move, H-E-B executives said, will reduce the retailer’s grid energy usage by more than 15 percent during periods of peak daytime demand.
“This is unprecedented, to have in the Austin area, this large of an investment all at once in solar,” said Kaiba White, president of area nonprofit Solar Austin. “This is going to almost certainly be the largest installation by a single entity” in the Austin area.
The solar panel installations will make H-E-B eligible for significant rebates in the coming decade, said Austin Energy’s Danielle Murray, manager of the utility’s solar energy services. The city approved up to $1.5 million in Austin Energy rebates over the next decade as solar energy production benchmarks are met, Murray said.
“We have a long history of supporting solar,” Murray said of the rebate program. And “it’s great to see this kind of commitment to renewable energy by a local retailer based here in Texas and seeing the value in solar, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it makes sense. We are really excited to see one of our big and local companies take this step.”
Each outfitted H-E-B store -- and the San Marcos and Temple distribution centers -- will have a range of solar panel systems.
The Riverside Drive store in Austin, for example, will have 1,606 solar panels producing about 686,000 kilowatt-hours a year.
The H-E-B San Marcos distribution center, by comparison, will have more than 9,000 panels producing 3.4 million kilowatt-hours a year. The Temple distribution center, with more than 5,000 panels, will produce 1.98 million kilowatt-hours a year.
H-E-B's latest foray into using solar energy follows other, albeit smaller, solar efforts by the company in recent years. In a 2009 pilot program, H-E-B outfitted its Brodie Lane store in South Austin with solar panels. Its Mueller store in 2013 was built with 600 solar panels producing 200,000 kilowatt-hours a year. It also has a 3,000-solar panel installation at a South Texas store in Weslaco.
“The Austin solar panel network demonstrates H-E-B’s commitment to implementing thoughtful renewable energy solutions not just in new buildings, but in existing structures as well,” Presses said. “Part of H-E-B’s responsibility in being a good steward to the community is to improve our use of natural resources which we hope will also lower energy costs, that’s one more way we make it possible to always provide shoppers with the everyday low prices they count on from H-E-B.”
The retailer’s solar panel systems were designed and installed by San Mateo, Calif-based SolarCity and will be owned and operated by H-E-B, the retailer said.
“H-E-B is a pioneer in Texas — by using clean power to reduce grid demand and electricity costs, they are setting an example that hopefully many others in the state will follow,” said SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive. “Texas gets a lot of sun and leads the country in energy consumption. We strongly believe it’s going to be a leading solar state in the years to come.”