• Lebanon auto shop embraces solar energy

    By Matt Masters -

    AAMCO Transmissions and Total Car Care on West Main Street in Lebanon held a ribbon cutting on Friday for its newest upgrade, a series of solar panels on the roof of the business.

    Owner Brad Isbell has managed the business for 15 years and saw the opportunity to save money and have a business that is that much cleaner and more efficient than before.

    “We run a really tight ship, but in order to save money and shore things up, we had to think outside of the box,” Isbell said.

    “Not only was it feasible, but government grants were there. See, we got 25 percent of the project covered by a government grant – so when you start putting a pencil to it, this project after the initial tax write off that you do in year one and the government grant, this project pays for itself in somewhere between three and four years, depending on how much energy you use. In addition to saving on the electric bill, whatever I don’t use or need, I can sell it back to Middle Tennessee Electric as part of their grid.”

    Erik Melang, co-founder of Distributive Solar who has worked on similar projects in Nashville, said the project is on the forefront of changes residents could see throughout Middle Tennessee as electric costs rise. Melang also said solar panels have changed and became more reliable as technology has advanced.

    “This project is a 22 ½-kilowatt sized system, and it’s going to offset 75 percent of the energy use of this building. These have panel-level electronics, so if shade comes over two or three panels, it doesn’t affect the rest of them. These are smart panels – this is new technology,” Melang said.

    According to Isbell, the solar panels are designed to operate at 100 percent efficient for about 20 years with efficiency dropping to about 90 percent in the 20-25 year range. Isbell has also taken other steps to save money by re-using waste oil to heat the building in the winter.

    Chris Elizer, an account representative with Solar Alliance, the installer of the project, said this is the first project done in Lebanon, and they hope to expand installations. 

    “It can help them reduce their costs, they’re available to get funding through the USDA, and I think this is the best application for solar – a small town, a new technology. This is allowing the business to make a statement that they’re on the cutting edge of technology,” Elizer said.

    Isbell said he’s received a lot of attention and interest about the upgrade to the business and hopes others will take advantage of opportunities to save money and do their part to help the community and the environment.

    “The fact of the matter is that this business is known for being a polluter of the environment, and I’m trying to do everything that I can to change that and at least show people that shops can be upstanding in the community when it comes to environmental issues.”

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