solar panels

Workers install solar panels on the roof of Society Conoco. (Photo courtesy of Bill Gordon)

Bill Gordon will be the first to tell you he’s a man of few words. He’s more about doing, not saying. Since the beginning of this year, the owner of Society Conoco has been mulling over and researching the installation of solar panels atop the bustling gas station and convenience store he owns at the junction of Highway 145 and Society Drive.

On a brilliant fall day, Gordon proudly showed off the results of his meticulous planning. It involved sending this reporter up an extension ladder to the roof, despite her instinctive distrust of ladders. “Just get over it,” he said. So I did. Twenty panels were arrayed over the middle portion of his business where the carwash is located. To the west, above the store and the canopy protecting the gas pumps below, lay the balance of the panels — 116 of them, out of a total of 136.

An installation crew is focused on the task of wiring the array.

“We’ll be able to offset quite a bit of our power,” Gordon said. “We can reduce our carbon footprint.”

Gordon looked into grants but ultimately decided to foot the bill himself. He is investing a couple hundred thousand dollars of his own money into the enterprise, one that he sees as an investment in the future and a way to ultimately reduce his reliance on electricity.

According to EnergySage, an online solar financing marketplace that links businesses to solar providers, data shows that “businesses pay off their solar panel buying and installation costs in three to seven years.” What’s more, they can continue to reap the benefits of their own, generated electrical supply for the life of the panels (about 25-30 years).

Before installing the array, Gordon made improvements to his roof, an upgrade that will last as long as the panels do.

Additionally, since Gordon purchased his system outright, he can now take advantage of federal and state tax credits.

Gordon, who has owned the gasoline-and-convenience-store at the entrance to Lawson Hill for 26 years, identifies himself as a businessman, not an environmentalist. “I’m just a merchant,” he states succinctly.

He’s also a father and a grandfather who listens to his granddaughter.

“He’s getting pressure from the younger generation,” laughs Gordon’s son, Jason.

Gordon’s monthly electric bill is significant. Safely down the ladder, he calls his daughter, Darcie, to find out what his latest power bill totals. It’s a whopping $2,400, which he estimates will be about halved within a year’s time. What remains to be seen is how his new array will gather and store energy — compared to many arrays, his lies flat. He’s hoping the heat will disperse accumulated snow — otherwise, clearing the panels may become a regular task.

The irony of selling fossil fuels while also looking to reap the benefits of utilizing a renewable energy source is not lost on Gordon, who acknowledges his approach is as much business-oriented as it is focused on the environment.

Adam Chamber is a climate scientist who volunteers his time and expertise for the Pinhead Climate Institute.

“As a scientist and local citizen, I commend every action to utilize local renewable energy to reduce our community’s reliance on coal-based electricity,” Chambers said. “All actions are good. But we must take aggressive steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance carbon sequestration in order to address the global climate issue.”

Soon, Gordon’s Conoco station will be able to accommodate motorists who drive electric or hybrid vehicles: he’s in negotiations with the providers of fast-charge EV stations, which can recharge US- and Japanese-made EVs in just 15 minutes. Many chargers take five hours to replenish an EV’s battery. That’s fine for the county’s new intercept lot where a car can sit all day, Gordon said, but for a gas station-convenience store “that’s not conducive to convenience store usage. That’s our business model.”

He’s also talking with representatives of Tesla, who have a fast-charger specifically for that company’s vehicles. “They’re interested in putting one in,” he said.

Whether goaded by a concerned grandchild or his own business sense, Gordon wanted to stop thinking about how he might contribute to a healthier planet and commit to installing a solar array.

“We believe action is better than sitting and talking,” he said.