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Picture this building with solar panels.

Governments may get (partially) shut down and Americans may riot in the streets over Obamacare.

But Louisville keeps moving forward, with another large building going solar.

Andy Blieden
Andy Blieden

Andy Blieden, who owns The Butchertown Market Complex, plans to start converting the 4-story, 85,000-square-foot retail, restaurant and office complex at 1201 Story Ave. to solar power next month.

“We’ve been wanting to do renewable energy for the past 10 years,” Blieden said. “The time is now for us to at least start,” with the cost of solar panels dropping about 800 percent since 2003.

The price for solar photovoltaic power systems including installation dropped across the United States to between $0.30 per watt to $0.90 per watt between 2011 to 2012 according to industry documents. There are also federal tax credit programs for solar installations.

Getting an acre and a half under roof mostly off the grid is going to take time and a major investment, with Blieden estimating it will take about three years and an investment of between $500,000 and $1 million to complete the project.

“We’re looking at payoff … of about a 7 percent cash return. So, we think we’ll see a payback from solar between 7 to 10 years out,” he said.

Dan Hofmann, who owns Louisville-based RegenEn Solar, is the contractor for the project.

“We’ve worked out a plan … to basically produce all electric for the building from solar,” Blieden said.

Before the first panel goes up, he’s has already made a significant investment in making the building more energy efficient.

In the past four years, Blieden has computerized the air conditioning and heating system and installed LED lights and motion systems in bathrooms and hallways. “We’ve insulated, made it as energy efficient as possible. You don’t want to go to solar panel … before you’ve done everything in your power to be as energy efficient as possible,” he said.

Butchertown Market has 20 businesses including Work the Metal, Bourbon Barrel Foods, Cellar Door Chocolates and the new Jackknife restaurant. A number of companies have large staffs and power needs, Blieden said. “Everyone is very supportive we’re taking this step.”

Asked how much the average Butchertown Market utility bill is, he demurred, saying only, “Thousands. Lots of thousands. That’s what I’ll say. I’d love to start heading in the other direction!

“The whole idea is, I would like my utility bill to have peaked, and now every month see it heading in the opposite direction. We just think renewable is where everything is going to go.”

Louisville’s most famous commercial solar project is The Green Building on East Market in NuLu. But a number of other buildings have quietly gone solar including the Humana building.

Back in January, Humana installed solar on its Michael Graves-designed Main Street HQ made by San Jose, Calif.based SunPower. The array – SunPower 327-watt modules and SMA inverters, confirmed ours sources at the time  – is connected to Louisville Gas & Electric’s utility grid.

chemistry

On Tuesday, Fort Knox flipped the switch on its huge Earthwell Energy Management-designed array, which produces 2.1 mega-watts of energy. The cost-neutral project will produce more than 2.5 million kilo-watt hours of renewable energy annually, offset 6-million pounds of CO2 per year, and has supported 421 jobs during construction, according to an Earthwell news release.

(The project is “cost neutral” because solar savings offset conventional energy procurement options.)

From the release:

The solar PV installation establishes Fort Knox as a leader in meeting federal energy efficiency mandates and U.S. Army’s Net-Zero Initiative objectives – all while supporting jobs and the environment. The array simultaneously reduces dependency on foreign oil and increases America’s energy generation capacity. The project helped support 421 American jobs while using solar panels and power inverters made in the U.S.A. The array’s design and implementation were completed by Louisville-based Earthwell Energy Management, Inc. The 6-million pounds of CO2 offset annually by the installation is the equivalent of planting 15,000 trees or removing 560 cars from the road.

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Terry Boyd
Terry Boyd has seven years experience as a business/finance journalist, and eight years a military reporter with European Stars and Stripes. As a banking and finance reporter at Business First, Boyd dealt directly with the most influential executives and financiers in Louisville.

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