“Our project to “go solar” had a beginning, but it really hasn’t had an end. It only served to give us the launch point for finding more creative ways to save on power, reduce energy expenses, and to continue along the path towards complete energy independence for our company.”- James Clark, President, JLS Mailing Services
JLS Mailing Services is a 98-year old company that has emerged as New England’s premier provider of printing and mailing services for hundreds of the area’s top companies. Although the mail industry is declining due to the encroachment of electronic communications, there remains a core of consumer preference and regulatory reasons why mail is still a viable medium for communications. JLS Mailing Services’ challenge has been to retain their full current workforce and modest level of profitability by doing things smarter and more efficiently than any of their competitors.
JLS Mailing turned on their solar PV system in January 2016. Since then, the company has been reaping the economic and sustainable benefits of solar energy. We sat down with solar veteran and president of JLS Mailing Services, James Clark, to get his insight into the solar process.
Why did you make the decision to go solar?
We became interested in solar energy several years ago when we met with a consultant who spoke of the benefits we might achieve if we considered going solar. We have always looked for ways to prudently manage our finite resources such as recycling our waste paper, toner cartridges and waste cardboard. Last year we started to ask ourselves, “Can we do this as a giant leap to keep us ahead of our competition?” When we contacted Solect we immediately appreciated that we were dealing with experts who educated us on not only the benefit reducing our electric costs since we’re a big consumer of electricity, but also how to take advantage of the tax credits and the solar credits as well. We realized we had the perfect site for a roof-mounted PV solar system – a newer membrane, flat roof without obstructions. And we had a strong financial benefit model.
Why did you choose Solect as your solar partner?
While we liked Solect from the first meeting, in order to understand the industry better we invited two other solar companies to give us their proposals. Following these meetings, we decided to speak exclusively to Solect because they were highly credible, they had A-list referrals, and they were a local company. We have never regretted our choice; Solect has stood with us every step of the way and they have made sure to deliver everything that was set out in their original proposal and project plan.
How do your energy / operating costs from before you went solar compare to those after going solar?
The timing was right for us in many ways. First, as a corporation we had the appetite to take full advantage of the federal tax credits that were available. Next, we virtually eliminated our $90,000 annual electric bill. Today, after only several months of operation, we know that our system is generating electricity at 106% of expected production rates, so we should be receiving more than $150,000 in SREC II credits annually. Our first year avoided cost is $240,000.
What has been the best part of your solar experience?
One of the best aspects of going solar is the immediate positive reaction people have when they hear that we made the move. Everyone wants to know more – are we saving any money, how difficult was it, would we do it all over again? It’s in the forefront of everyone’s thinking and everyone’s curious about it. Not just customers, but other business owners and people that we meet socially.
Can you tell us a little bit about how going solar has changed your company from a business perspective?
Customers appreciate the “going green” story. That part is very, very clear. Our challenge has been how to leverage any associated premium attached to “green” or “solar” initiatives by purchasing agents and buyers.
Did going solar encourage you to pursue any other “green” initiatives?
Yes it did. One of our very smart managers located several grants that funded a complete change-out of our traditional style fluorescent tubes and lighting fixtures in our production areas for more highly efficient LED lighting. That move, combined with a grant to swap an energy draining compressor for a much more efficient model means that we have totally matched our prior electric consumption with electric savings and solar production.
We also installed a couple of EV car chargers at our facility, as several of our employees now drive electric vehicles. We are very conscious now of the need to stay abreast of new grants and initiatives that may come about at the state level. Our next effort is pointing towards installing storage battery back-ups when that technology matures rather than investing in replacing our natural gas emergency back-up generator when that time comes.
What advice do you have for business or property owners looking to go solar?
We would urge all business owners to become educated on what their specific solar opportunity might with their need to reduce operating expense. Don’t think you know enough alone – get the opinion of an expert in the industry. Solar is an emerging industry, and frankly not everyone in the solar industry will be looking out for your best interests. Find a company that has your interests at heart, and speak to them to find out if a solar solution could work for you.
What was the most difficult aspect of going solar, and how were you able to overcome it?
One difficult aspect we encountered was finding out that not all lenders fully understand solar initiatives and how to account for the cost savings and ROI associated with tax credits and SREC’s. We were fortunate to partner with a financial institution who knew the industry well.
Is there anything else about your “solar story” that you would like to share?
There’s been no down-side to our decision. The financial benefits have tracked exactly along the projections we established early on in our project. It did take us 14 months to move from start to the point where our system was initialized. That’s considerably more time that we expected at the outset. We even weathered a storm or two as State solar cap regulations changed part way through our implementation, but in the end, the installation has brought nothing but benefits to our business.