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Payless Drugs taps into solar power

The independent pharmacy retailer is seeking to minimize its environmental footprint and drive cost savings at the same time via solar power energy.
Mark Hamstra

Payless Drugs, a four-store independent retailer based in Birmingham, Ala., is seeking to minimize its environmental footprint and drive cost savings at the same time through the use of solar power.

Last year the company installed solar panels on the roof of a store in Fairfield, Ala., which has helped cut its monthly energy bill almost in half at that location, said Boyd Ennis Jr., owner of Payless Drugs. “We’ve always been interested in solar power,” he said. “As an independent, one of the ways you increase your profits is to reduce your expenses and your power consumption. “This is a benefit to the environment, but it’s also a benefit to the store.”

Power consumption had been especially high at the Fairfield store, Ennis said, which made it a strong candidate for the solar test. Payless also wanted to take advantage of tax credits that were available for solar installations. “Fortunately we were blessed to have a few extra coins in the coffer to be able to do it. We’ve been happy with it. It’s actually been quite exciting.”

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The panels don’t provide all the power needed for the store, he said, although they do provide significant savings. One recent monthly electricity bill showed that the store had to buy 2,495 kilowatt hours of power from the grid, compared with about 4,600 a year ago. The most recent bill totaled $477, compared with just over $800 a year ago.

The cost of installation, including a meter that he added about a month afterward, was about $34,000, he said.

One of the challenges he faces is that his cost per kilowatt/hour for electricity usage actually went up after installing the solar panels because of the way the grid is structured in Alabama. The store is still generating savings, however, and the solar panels have so far provided a higher share of the store’s energy needs than Ennis had originally expected.

Payless is looking to add solar panels on a second store in Morris, Ala., after replacing the roof at that location. It doesn’t pay to install solar panels on a roof that will need to be replaced within a few years, he said.

That second location could potentially reduce its power consumption even more if it can save enough solar power during the day to power essential equipment, such as refrigerators and freezers, overnight, he said. All of his stores have backup generators to provide power to those essential appliances in the event of power outage, Ennis said.

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Payless also takes other steps to reduce energy consumption, including using smart thermostats to help regulate store temperature and other technology that limits power consumption when certain electronic devices are not in use.

“We are not a net-zero store by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “We don’t have enough roof space to do that, but we’re doing our part.”

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