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Pennsylvania Pool Chemical Business Soaks Up Rays

September 7, 2010 - 3:00pm

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MetroTek installed a 620kW solar panel system at Buckman's Inc. in Pottstown, PA. The Recovery Act-funded project is expected to save the pool chemical business $5 million over the next 25 years. | Photo Courtesy of MetroTek Electrical Services

MetroTek installed a 620kW solar panel system at Buckman's Inc. in Pottstown, PA. The Recovery Act-funded project is expected to save the pool chemical business $5 million over the next 25 years. | Photo Courtesy of MetroTek Electrical Services

Most people catching rays poolside don't realize this, but it takes a lot of energy to make swimming pool chemicals. So much so that Buckman's Inc., a small business in Pottstown, PA, decided to tap into a fitting energy source to help offset high energy costs from its pool chemical manufacturing facility: the sun. 

Buckman's installed a rooftop 620 kW solar panel system at a nearby distribution center that will cut the company's energy costs by up to 18 percent and save about $5 million over the next 25 years.  A portion of the project was paid for using a $520,000 grant from the Recovery Act awarded through the State Energy Program.

"I think the biggest thing in the long run is that it is going to help us reduce our overall costs," says David Bowman, director of global resources. "It's a competitive market and to be able to generate power through the sun is great."

Offsetting high-energy usage

Two years ago, Buckman's started making the pool chemical sodium hypochlorite at a new manufacturing facility using an electrolysis process that consumes a significant amount of electrical power.

Pennsylvania is becoming a leader in renewable energy. The Buckman’s Inc. solar installation is one of 13 solar projects in the state. The state is the second in the nation in wind power generation, according to John Hangar, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The expensive operation, Bowman says, was the impetus for the solar project.  The company needed to find a way to save money, and renewable energy at the distribution center was the answer. 

And the timing was perfect.

"Had there not been the grant money/tax incentives, it would not have made economic sense, because the payback would have been too long," he says.

The return on investment for the company is about seven years, according to Bowman. The total cost of the project was about $4.3 million.

Diverse business—and energy—ventures

The 45-year-old company supplies swimming pool chemicals, water treatment chemicals and ice melt products in the Northeast, serving customers in 38 states and Canada. The company also owns and operates five snowboard and ski shops in the Philadelphia area.

"We always want hot summers and cold winters," Bowman says. 

Since it went online, the solar panel system has generated enough electricity to power 234 homes in a month, according to the data monitoring system that tracks the energy output at Buckman's. That's similar to preventing almost 1,500 tons of carbon dioxide emission or planting 229,000 trees.

The company expects to avoid about 850,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually, which is equivalent to conserving over 40,000 gallons of gasoline per year.

Installed by MetroTek Electrical Services, the 620 kW PV solar energy system became fully operational in June.  The company expects it to produce 700,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year from almost 3,000 high-efficiency photovoltaic solar modules.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the project created 14, temporary full-time jobs.

Once the solar project is complete, Buckman's plans to install a 100 kW wind turbine at its corporate offices and solar-powered heating systems at each of its ski and snowboard shops.

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