A decade ago, Velux Group CEO Jorgen Teng-Jensen set a lofty goal for his company.
By 2020, the skylight manufacturer would cut its global carbon footprint by 50 percent by investing in new technologies to manage its energy consumption and harvesting the power of renewable resources.
And this week, the Denmark-based company’s Greenwood plant will become the first in Velux’s 40-country portfolio to fuel its operations through the use of a dedicated solar farm that will also return energy to the grid, minimizing the chances of outages or shorts during peak consumption times.
“It speaks to who we’ve tried to be in this community for 37 years, so doing this is kind of a statement of what we believe in,” Velux Greenwood CEO John Pillman said. “We’re daylight and fresh air, that’s what we produce and sell here. So this just fits hand-in-hand with our company philosophy.”
The $2.65 million, 4,300-panel solar array will generate 1 megawatt of power a year – saving Velux 1,400 tons of carbon dioxide emissions and taking the equivalent of 292 cars off the road.
In addition to cutting $140,000 a year off Velux’s utility bill, Pillman said the system also serves as an advertisement for the effectiveness of renewable energy.
The solar farm will provide electricity to four of Velux Greenwood’s nine plants.
Already, Pillman said, representatives from three local companies have approached him for information about the farm and how it was financed.
“Having one in town, people have taken an interest in this,” Pillman said.
To help pay for its project, Velux is receiving a rebate from Duke Energy and a one-time 30 percent federal tax credit.
“Solar today is still not a financially viable thing. It sounds great, but it’s expensive and if you didn’t have the rebates and tax credits, the payback would be 25 years. And most people can’t do that,” Pillman said. “I can spend $2 million to expand my plant or put in new machines, so we had to believe in what we were doing here, and why we’re doing it.”
Rex Reece, a senior manufacturing engineer at Velux who has worked closely on the company’s energy efficiency initiatives, said he was impressed by the willingness to pay for the solar array without a clear timeframe of a return on the investment.
“A lot of companies won’t invest that type of upfront capital, even for a four- or five-year payback,” he said. “ So Velux has always been at the forefront on that.”
The General Assembly is working to make future solar investments easier. On Feb. 1, the state Senate approved a bill that would create two new property tax exemptions for renewable energy production.
According to the state Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office, S. 44 could result in nearly $2 million worth of property tax reductions for commercial and leased residential installations.
The state Energy Office reported that in 2015-16, South Carolina had 2,991 installations with a capacity of 25,211 kilowatts. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports the average residential utility customer uses 10,812 kilowatt-hours a year.
Velux isn’t the only large-scale commercial solar venture in the Upstate. In January 2016, Cypress Creek Renewables announced plans to invest $12 million in Saluda County on two projects that will create 14 megawatts of power – enough to fuel 2,800 homes a year.
This January, the Greenwood County Council approved a fee-in-lieu-of-taxes, or FILOT, agreement, with Charleston-based Stevenson Farms LLC for construction of a $45 million solar farm off Ross Road.
City/County Planner Phil Lindler said in the last year, officials have permitted 20 residential solar installations. And the recruitment of industries that contribute to the county’s local energy conservation efforts is identified as a priority in a draft comprehensive plan expected to be approved by government bodies this year.
“There are a number of (renewable energy-related) goals, opportunities and strategies identified within the comprehensive plan rewrite,” Lindler said.
Pillman said his company has focused on energy conservation across the board since Teng-Jensen made his promise in 2007 that Velux would be a more responsible corporate steward.
“What we’re trying to do is have a positive impact on the environment,” Pillman said. “It’s a mandate to all of us running sales and production operations to do something to help the company achieve that goal.”
Contact staff writer Adam Benson at 864-943-5650 or on Twitter@ABensonIJ.