by Mike Sharkey
It’s not everyday you’re talking solar power when it’s 40 degrees outside and the wind is blowing hard out of the northwest. Then again, solar panels don’t care about the temperature or the wind. They work best in bright, full sun and that was also part of Wednesday’s forecast.
Local builder Dana B. Kenyon Company has the largest solar roof system of any private company in Jacksonville and is looking to take advantage of the Florida sun and the energy it’s capable of providing. On top of the Westside company’s roof is a series of six solar panels angled at between 15 and 30 degrees toward the sun. Collectively, those panels are capable of producing 30 percent of the company’s electricity while reducing its bill on a near-constant basis.
“We did this because we are a green-minded company and it’s the right thing to do,” said Matthew Kenyon, president and CEO of the company which was founded by his grandfather in 1944.
Kenyon said the technology is now affordable for private companies to install solar systems. The company designed and built the system and, after significant rebates and tax incentives, at a very low net price. The original price tag was $250,000. However, after a $100,000 rebate from the state and a 30 percent federal tax credit, the final cost to Kenyon was $40,000.
Kenyon said the system, which was installed in November, is also a source of pride for the company of 50 employees.
“It’s been a big morale boost for the company,” he said. “The employees like being a part of it and they like that the company cares enough to invest capital out of its own pocket.”
The panels work in a relatively simple way. Solar energy is converted into direct current (DC) which is fed to an inverter box inside the building. The energy is then converted into usable alternating current (AC). That AC electricity is transmitted to the building’s circuit breaker system, which disperses it throughout the building. The company’s electric bill is further lowered by feeding excess energy generated by the panels into JEA’s grid. That energy is credited back to Kenyon.
JEA spokesperson Gerri Boyce said the utility encourages private companies to seek out and use alternative energy sources.
“JEA applauds Kenyon Construction for installing one of the largest solar photovoltaic systems in our service territory,” said Boyce. “It shows a commitment to renewable energy and we expect more solar applications to be built in this community as a result of Kenyon’s commitment to alternative energy sources.”
According to Kenyon, the panels will pay for themselves in 6-7 years, but since they have a life span of 25-30 years, they will pay for themselves 3-5 times over.
Other private companies are starting to take notice of the potential savings — and the clean power source — and have tabbed Kenyon to design and install similar systems. Kenyon said CSX has bought a system for one of its rail yards in Waycross, Ga.
“They have a big green initiative and like us, they put their money where their mouth is,” he said.
Kenyon said the technology should catch on, especially as America realizes the value of becoming less dependent on nonrenewable energy sources.