Beaumont Deli Cuts The Carbons With Solar Array

BEAUMONT, TX | Saturday, September 08, 2007

At Jason's Deli on Dowlen Road, when the sun is out, it's also shining inside.

On the roof of the restaurant at 535 Dowlen, a solar array collects sunlight, converts it to direct-current electricity, and an inverter steps it into alternating current, and sends the power into the restaurant's electrical system.

So that spud you ordered with a variety of toppings has a bit of sunlit power in it.

"This is the first of many systems to be installed at Jason's Deli," said Raymond Begnaud, director of facilities and development for the Beaumont-based restaurant chain that now has 140 stores in Texas and 20 other states.

There is a second solar-equipped Jason's Deli in Austin and the company hopes to install more solar collectors in that market, Begnaud said.

Austin's municipally owned electric utility, Austin Energy, supports solar power with an incentive rebate of $4.50 per watt, said utility spokesman Ed Clark.

"This is about the most aggressive rebate in the country," Clark said. "Between federal tax credits and our rebate, it can pay about 70 percent of a solar array's cost." Entergy Texas incentive program Begnaud said Jason's Deli spent about $48,000 for its solar power setup at its Austin location, much of which was offset by the local rebate. In Beaumont, the cost was about $30,000 for a smaller system.

In Beaumont, the solar panels are rated at 5.3 kilowatts, which are supposed to generate almost 6,900 kilowatt hours of electricity per year.

Based on average utility usage for residences of 1,000 kilowatt hours per month, Jason's Deli's solar power system could supply an average home's electrical needs for almost seven months.

If a Beaumont homeowner wanted to install a solar array, it would have to be done without help from Entergy Texas.

"Our program isn't as robust as Austin's," said Terry Swan, a customer service specialist with Entergy Texas. "We don't deal with the homeowner. (We deal with) the company installing the project. Demand savings is what we're interested in, and the best bang (for the buck) is insulation." Swan said people who want to install energy-saving devices should have their contractor submit the project to Entergy for consideration at www.entergyefficiency.com, which would help to calculate the expected savings.

Could Jason's Deli expect to reap any benefit from its installation of solar power? "Technically, no," Swan said.

Jim Ardoin, senior project manager sat NewPoint Energy in Houston, which suggested the project to Jason's Deli and installed the array on Dowlen Road, said he is unaware of any other solar-electric generating capacity for a commercial client in the area.

"Austin has a lot of solar companies," Ardoin said. "The market is good there." However, if federal tax incentives and utility rebates help to support the industry, it could become a part of the landscape.

"I think it's going to come quicker than you think," he said.

Ardoin praised Jason's Deli founder Joe Tortorice for helping to lead in a new direction.

"He was among the first to take trans fats out of his food," Ardoin noted.

Begnaud said Tortorice is willing to invest in solar energy for the long term and isn't as concerned as others might be for a quicker payoff. Ardoin said the solar panels are guaranteed to produce electricity for at least 20 years.

Begnaud said the panels atop the restaurant on Dowlen Road will generate enough clean energy each year that otherwise would equal the amount of carbon dioxide that 400 cars would generate in one day.

Advertisement "It could take 12 to 15 years to pay off the investment," he said. "And we're doing other things in the deli. We're putting in compact fluorescent bulbs. We're looking to lessen our footprint on the environment."

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Beaumont, TX

Phone: (713) 780-1230

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