Auto dealership with solar panels on roof

Swope, Clark Jewelers Receive Funding to Improve Energy Efficiency

Originally published here.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced investments totaling $890,000 to help 16 Kentucky businesses to improve their energy efficiency including four Elizabethtown businesses.

The department made these 16 investments through the Rural Energy for America Program, which provides guaranteed loan financing and grant funding to agricultural producers and rural small businesses for renewable energy systems or to make energy efficiency improvements.

Locally, grant funding is going to Clark Jewelers, Swope Enterprises LLC, Swope Hyundai and Swope Motors Inc.

The release said Clark Jewelers will use a $8,875 grant for purchase and installation of a 15.6-kilowatt solar power system. Although the release said the project will realize $2,106 per year in energy generation, Patrick Clark of Clark Jewelers said they anticipate that number to be even higher. He said the installation of the solar power system, which was completed in May, was strictly a business decision, noting in five years the whole project could be paid for.

“In some applications, solar makes a lot of sense. In other applications, it may not. But in this application for us as a small business it made good sense,” he said. “… It’s basically going to reduce our electric bill between 60 to 70%.”

He said the grant covered about a 25% of the overall project cost.

Following the USDA news release, the Swope Family of Dealerships and Texas-based Freedom Solar, the industry leader in solar installations at automotive dealerships nationwide, announced they are partnering to install solar power by the end of 2021 at three of Swope’s six dealerships — Swope Toyota, Swope Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, and Swope Hyundai — as well as at the Swope Cars of Yesteryear Museum.

Swope Family of Dealerships President and CEO Carl Swope in a news release from his organization said these will be the first solar installations at any automotive dealership in Central Kentucky.

“All four installations will be completed by the end of the year. On average, they will offset 81% of our daily energy use, which includes showrooms, lots and the growing number of electric charging stations. Additionally, we are evaluating installations at our three other dealerships in 2022,” he said in the release.

Swope, which was named the 2017 Time-Ally Dealer of the Year, said his family is taking this action because their manufacturers are transitioning quickly to electric vehicles, and reducing the company’s carbon footprint is just the right thing to do.

“Being environmentally responsible is increasingly a demand we are seeing among our customers, as well,” he said.

According to the release, the Swope Family of Dealerships had been contemplating the move to solar for some time, after beginning its green initiatives in 2015 working with Daily Green Power of Elizabethtown on the installation of LED lighting.

Two federal incentive programs were deciding factors in Swope’s decision to move ahead with its plans to make the significant investment of $1.5 million for solar at the four facilities.

The first is the 26% federal investment tax credit for solar, initiated in 2020 and recently extended by Congress through 2022, which drops to 22% in 2023, the release said. The Rural Energy for America Program grant, roughly $285,878 altogether, awarded to Swope by the USDA further contributed to the financial feasibility of these projects. The power produced by these systems will provide $2.25 million in electricity savings over 30 years.

Together, the four rooftop solar projects include 1,900 high-efficiency SunPower 395-watt commercial solar panels, representing installed capacity of more than one megawatt, the release said. The systems will produce more than 828,500 kilowatt-hours of clean energy annually, which is enough to power more than 100 homes.

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Additionally, the systems will offset 1.3 million pounds of CO2 emissions each year, which is like planting 9,700 trees or replacing 128 gas-powered cars with EVs, the release said.

The project details for each location are as follows:

• Swope Toyota, 946 solar panels

• Swope Hyundai, 454 solar panels

• Swope Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, 400 solar panels

• Swope’s Cars of Yesteryear Museum, 100 solar panels

According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, energy costs can be a dealership’s third-highest operating expense because of long operating hours and energy-intensive showrooms and lots. Dealers nationwide report rising electric costs from utility companies. For these reasons, many dealerships are turning to solar to mitigate their high-energy expenditures and ensure electricity reliability, the release said.

In the release, the company said Swope also studying the use of solar carport display areas to protect inventory from weather hazards and produce sustainable energy. The long-term goal is to be a leader in the automotive industry in reducing their carbon footprint, the release said.