beerDespite Florida’s lack of solar incentives, the renewable, on-site energy is too good a deal for Great Bay Distributors to pass up. 

Great Bay is a privately-owned company that delivers 9.5 million cases of beer to bars and stores throughout the state every year. It is Florida’s largest distributor of Anheuser-Busch products, but it also sells water, soda and over 400 brands of mass-market and craft beers. The business is doing so well that it has run out of space at its 10-acre warehouse on Ulmerton and Starkey road. The company has bold plans for its next one.

The new Great Bay warehouse will be built in north St. Petersburg near interstate 275 and, and after its construction, it will be the largest private solar power system in the state.

CEO Ron Petrini told The Tampa Tribune that the decision to go solar wasn’t part of a grand, renewable statement. Rather, it just made the most economic sense.

The new warehouse will be 246,000 square feet and require plenty of energy to stay cool. But by installing 5,000 solar panels on the roof, the company will reduce its monthly power bill by 40 percent.

“When we started looking at what we were going to be putting up and how rather large it’s going to be and the fact that it’s really sitting out in the middle of a field with no trees, no shade, just sunshine when it’s sunny, it was kind of a natural decision to say, ‘Well, let’s look at solar,’” said Petrini.

Florida and other southern states lack many of the solar incentives and subsidies of their northern and less sunny neighbors. Industry advocates say this is because Florida utilities don’t want the competition. But the falling prices of solar installation and equipment have made the clean, on-site technology too good for many businesses to pass up.

Two decades ago, solar energy cost about $60 per watt. Today, according to Scott McIntyre of Solar Energy Management, it’s nearer to $1.98.

Other Florida businesses, such as mortgage banking firm First Housing, are taking advantage of the solar boom. In June, First Housing’s 17,000 square foot Tampa headquarters installed a 486-panel solar array, shrinking their monthly power bill from $3,000 to $600. The cost of installation also benefited from a 30 percent federal tax credit.

“I’ve always been sort of enthralled with the concept of solar energy and being able to reduce or eliminate the power bill,” said Doug McCree, First Housing CEO. “It just gives you a lot of certainty in your operating costs.”

Last week, climate scientists made the case to the state’s governor that Florida’s sunny nature makes it the perfect location for a solar makeover. Climatologist David Hastings also pointed out that because the state will be mandated to cut 38 percent of its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, incentivizing renewable energy now will make the transition much easier.

Even without incentives, Ron Petrini doesn’t think his 1.5 megawatt system will hold the record for long.

“I think down the road somebody will certainly come up with one that is larger, and probably should,” he said, “because, my gosh, we have an abundance of sunshine down here, so why not take advantage of it?”

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