Monday, July 31, 2006

Chicago-Area Laundromat Heats Water with Solar Power

Tom Benson's touts his Berwyn, Illinois, laundromat as the world's largest. Turns out it's also one of the greenest, as Berwyn has installed a $150,000 solar hot water system on his building that saves his business about $25,000 a year in energy costs:
Benson first converted from natural gas to solar in 2001, two years after buying the laundry. The motivation, he says unapologetically, was pure dollars and cents.

His heating bills were climbing as high as $13,000 -- the equivalent of 25 percent of his total monthly revenue.

"There was just no way I could survive if that continued," he said. "I was looking at a very dire situation."

At a meeting where laundry owners vented about energy prices, someone mentioned solar. Illinois was offering grants to pay 50 percent of the cost of solar systems; Benson applied, got the grant and had a system up within months.

His bank, to his surprise, didn't hesitate to loan him the needed money.

"When I showed the numbers to my bank, they understood immediately," he recalled. "It was like: Boom, 'Here's the money. Go for it.'"
Benson has even reinstalled the solar system -- a fire destroyed the laundromat in 2004, but he rebuilt, complete with an upgraded solar water heater. He plans to stay in business for another 20 years, and 15 of those should come with free hot water because of this investment. While the upfront costs for such an installation are prohibitive to many small businesses, a combination of state aid with low maintenance cost and a relatively short pay-back period make going solar a no-brainer for many entrepreneurs. Benson notes it buys him a lot of goodwill in his working-class neighborhood, too: "Many people here have come up to me and said, 'Thank you for helping the environment. Thank you for going solar,'" Benson said.

From the AP via ENN.

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