This past year has been difficult for many businesses with the COVID-19 pandemic putting a stop to many operating as usual. 

Lack of customer traffic, decreases in revenue and utility rate increases can have a negative impact on a business. One Maple Grove business owner is taking matters into his own hands.

Matt Sederstrom, who owns two auto repair franchises, including Maple Grove Honest-1, said, “You have to take control of your own destiny.”

He has signed an agreement with Blue Horizon Energy in Minnetonka to have solar panels installed on the roof of each of his auto repair shops. “It’s an environmentally and economically viable option,” he said. “Plus, we wanted to take control of our utility bills and eliminate rate increases.”

He understands the push to create cleaner energy options, but he’s also a farm kid at heart and knows that it has to also make sense to the pocketbook and the bottom line.

“I wouldn’t invest in solar if it wasn’t a smart business decision,” Sederstrom said. “We wanted to take control of our utility bills and eliminate rate increases.”

It wasn’t just the option to become energy independent. For Sederstrom, the Federal Tax Credit and overall reduction on his tax load, combined with the long-term energy savings, created an equation that made perfect sense.

The team at Blue Horizon Energy helped him evaluate his options and find the best path forward. Griffin Dooling, CEO of Blue Horizon Energy, said his team works to build energy systems to help farmers, businesses, municipalities and homeowners maximize long-term results. “We’re looking forward to working with Matt to help make his operations more efficient and profitable with solar,” Dooling said.

Dooling said many of his customers choose solar energy because it’s a reliable way to reduce long-term operating costs. “During good times and bad times having a lower electric bill makes a facility more profitable and financially resilient, freeing up capital for other uses,” he said. “In addition, solar energy is a tangible and visible way for a business to deliver on its environmental values, which is resonating more every day with both consumers and business customers.”

Sederstrom’s project will include 178 rooftop panels across his two auto shops. Eventually, the panels will pay for his combined $12,000 annual energy bill, and that value will increase over time as rates continue to go up.

By producing power on-site with solar panels, Sederstrom’s auto shops will reduce the amount they need to purchase from the utility company. This reduces their operating costs, freeing up capital to invest in other parts of the business. The Maple Grove facility, for example, will save over $230,000 in energy expenses over the warrantied life of the solar array.

How will the solar panels work?

Solar radiation is collected by the solar panels, creating DC energy. This DC energy is then run through an inverter to convert it into AC energy useful to our modern electric grid. That AC power is fed into the property’s energy system the same way as utility power, and the property always remains connected to the utility grid. This ensures uninterrupted power is available on cloudy days and at night.

Under Minnesota state law, any excess power produced by the solar array above and beyond what the property can use at a given time (within certain limits) flows onto the utility grid, generating a credit. This credit is then used at night when the solar array is not producing, allowing a customer to offset 100% of the power they need with solar energy. In addition, batteries are available which can be coupled with the solar array to provide backup power for critical needs or to help reduce demand charges and peak energy consumption for businesses.

According to Dooling, more business owners and corporations are doing the math. “With state, federal, and utility incentives plus the right financing model, solar is simply a no-brainer for many. It’s really just a matter of taking a look at the bigger picture,” Dooling said.

He has seen a significant increase in interest from business and industrial customers over the past year as reducing operating expenses and increasing efficiency have become top-of-mind for many companies. “For those businesses fortunate to have seen business growth amid the pandemic, solar energy represents an attractive way to reinvest in their future and make their businesses stronger for the long-term, and for businesses facing challenges amid the pandemic, solar energy can help them get leaner and reduce operating costs,” Dooling added.

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