The Pedigree Ovens facility in Harvard is now home to a massive solar panel system with different colored panels arranged in the shape of a dog bone and paw print, a project which was recently recognized as the commercial and industrial solar project of the year.
When Simpleray, the project's developer, first pitched the idea to Kurt Stricker, owner of Pedigree Ovens, The Pound Bakery and Petdine, in December 2018, he said he saw three major benefits to his business that allowed him to say yes almost immediately.
“The whole feel-good, worldly acceptance of of using solar or wind or water driven electric is environmentally good, but fiscally it has to be responsible and marketing-wise it's perfect for especially smaller companies that are trying to find a niche in the industry,” Stricker said.
Environmentally speaking, the new solar panels will offset 36,132 metric tons of carbon dioxide over the next 25 years, according to statistics provided by Lewis Butler, Simpleray's director of sales. This is the equivalent of offsetting 88.3 million miles being driven by a passenger vehicle.
The positive effect this has is equivalent to 1.6 million trash bags of waste being recycled instead of thrown in landfills, according to the statistics.
The solar panel system will produce enough energy to cover 90% to 100% of the 212,000-square-foot facility’s energy use depending on the season, Stricker said.
When it comes to the project's finances, Stricker said Pedigree Ovens put up an initial investment of $3 million dollars with a payback period of less than a year. They are expected to save $119,000 on energy costs in the first year.
The company saved $2.8 million in taxes and incentives from the state and federal government as well as a special rebate from ComEd, according to a website on the project set up by Simpleray.
“Illinois is very aggressive in trying to install and use solar so the incentives are greater than they would be in surrounding states,” Stricker said.
In marketing terms, the solar panel system has further increased awareness of the facility within the community and has drawn positive comments from customers who said they are grateful for the company’s commitment to renewable energy, Stricker said.
Stricker started Pedigree Ovens in Harvard as a pet treat manufacturing business back in 1996 but since has grown the business to provide full-time employment to 250 people, he said.
After Pedigree Ovens finished building its new headquarters in 2017, Althoff Industries, a local contractor, connected Stricker with Simpleray to begin designing the solar panel project, Butler said.
Simpleray handled the project's engineering and procurement, Althoff Industries built the array and a company called OMCO Solar manufactured the mounting and racking for the installation.
The "PAWsome" dog bone and paw design, as Simpleray calls it, which can be seen on the solar array from an aerial view was not as simple for the team to design and construct as it may look to the average eye, Butler said.
“It's not as if we have like a full set of paint brushes and paints to work from here, right? We got a couple colors and modules and everything you're doing is kind of in this like eight bit old-school Nintendo pixelated design, right?” Butler said.
“So you have to have a really big array that it makes sense to do it on and then you have to have something that you can convey in a relatively simple image,” he added.
This is one of a few reasons why nearly two years had passed before the solar panel array was connected and ready for use in late August 2020, Stricker said.
“Any large project you're going to run into delays," Butler said. “There's a lot of moving parts on the financing side of things so that took a little bit more time to get squared away.”
One thing the team could not have foreseen, however; was a global pandemic.
“We had to do a customer order of modules which, thanks to COVID-19, it kind of made life a bit more complicated,” Butler said.
As COVID-19 delivered a massive blow to the global supply chain, the arrival of the modules, which had to be shipped from overseas, was delayed significantly, he said.
Ultimately, it was worth the wait, Butler said.
“This is one of those times where the final product was even better than what [we] could have imagined when [we] originally put it on paper,” he said.
The recognition as the commercial and industrial solar project of the year, given by Solar Builder Magazine, added to the excitement around this unique undertaking, which Butler said he hopes will inspire other businesses to consider switching to solar energy as well.
“We certainly hope that this gets people thinking about new and creative ways that they can show off their having a positive impact on the environment and show that they're invested in it for the long run," he said.