Food City Utilizing Solar in Piney Flats

Published February 17, 2012

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The Food City here is selling more than meat, produce and milk. In December, a series of solar panels on the store’s roof began producing electricity.

The power is sold to the Johnson City Power Board.

“We want to make the best choices for preserving our natural resources,” Steve Smith, Food City’s president and CEO, said during a news conference Thursday at the store.

The Tennessee Valley Authority created the Generation Partners Pilot Program in 2003. The program encourages homeowners and businesses to install small energy production systems. The goal is to produce more energy from renewable resources.

Johnson City Power Board, which distributes TVA power, reads the amount of power generated by the solar array at Food City each month. The board pays Food City roughly 21 cents per kilowatts hour. That amount is reduced from the building’s monthly bill.

“The overall goal is to lower our carbon footprint and reduce our energy use,” Smith said.

The solar system is expected to create 63,000 kilowatts hours of electricity annually. The power board has collected one month’s worth of power generation and billed Food City, but Smith said he has not seen the bill.

“It is the equivalent of taking 255 cars off the road,” Smith said.

He plans to evaluate the program in six months. While Smith supports the environmental aspect of the program, he said he wants the solar array to make sense financially.

He added that he’s optimistic the company will break even on the $200,000 investment in five to seven years. The system is expected to last 20 to 25 years.

Smith said he’s not sure whether the company will place systems at other stores.

The utility has 30 other customers participating in the pilot program, but the Food City project is the largest, Johnson City Power Board Electrical Engineer Brandon Horne said.

The system has 243 panels and occupies about half the roof.

Horne said the program has become more popular recently. Besides the payment from the electric company, a participant can receive a federal tax credit worth as much as 30 percent of the installation cost.

LightWave Solar Electric installed the solar array at Food City.

Jason Hendrickson, Food City store manager in Piney Flats, said customers have seen the trucks and cranes installing the system and gotten excited about the project.

He sees the project as a way for Food City to give back to the community.

“In a sense, it is giving back to the world,” Hendrickson said.

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On-line performance monitoring is displayed on a large screen inside the Piney Flats Food City store.