Maybe the name tells the story, but for the past decade Suncoast Credit Union ($8.4B, Tampa, FL) has made a large investment in solar and sustainability.
Since 2008, when the credit union launched its green initiatives, Suncoast has fitted 13 buildings with solar panels. Four of the 13 buildings are now net-zero compliant, meaning they generate enough power on-site through solar panels and other renewable sources that they require no additional electricity.
Today, Suncoast saves more than $300,000 annually on energy costs, but its green investments do more than save money, they support the credit union’s triple bottom line of business, community, and environment.
Bakari Kennedy, Director of Facilities and Sustainability Program Manager, Suncoast Credit Union
In this Q&A, Bakari Kennedy, Suncoast’s director of facilities and manager of the credit union’s sustainability program, discusses sustainability, the ins and outs of solar panel setup, and green ways to build a stronger bottom line.
Suncoast has 13 solar-powered buildings. How do you know when one is net-zero on power usage?
Bakari Kennedy: We track our utility bills for evidence of when a building is net-zero compliant. That can take up to one year to validate.
Why is the credit union so focused on sustainability?
BK: The Suncoast mission is to improve our members’ lives, to be innovative, and to maximize efficiency. These are also core principles of sustainability, so in 2008, the Suncoast senior staff committed to make sustainability one of our core values.
We know we have the ability to build healthier, financially wiser communities. We’re fulfilling our mission by committing to green initiatives. We’re improving our business bottom line and protecting the environment.
What are some of the green initiatives Suncoast supports?
BK: Solar power, green branches, the Adopt-A-Highway Program, free shred days, and our partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation are all instrumental in supporting our members and protecting the environment.
Do these efforts also serve an expense management purpose?
BK: Sustainable energy is a triple bottom line success story for Suncoast it’s good for business, good for the community, and good for the environment. In total, Suncoast saves approximately $305,000 annually due to its green and solar initiatives.
We know we have the ability to build healthier, financially wiser communities.
Where, specifically, do those cost savings come from?
BK: Our solar panels save the credit union $155,000. We save the remaining $150,000 through other green initiatives. For example, we changed from incandescent light bulbs to LEDs in our exterior lights and in our member care center parking garage, saving 25% monthly in both energy and electricity. Additionally, low emissivity windows, increased roofing insulation, and geothermal heat pumps at our green branches all contribute to a low site Energy Use Intensity (EUI) of 100 kBTU/SF or less. The resulting energy use is 80% less than a normal branch.
A birds-eye view of the solar array on top of Suncoast’s Member Care Center.
How many solar panels does Suncoast install per location? How much electricity do they generate?
BK: On a standard branch, we install a 40kW solar array: a panel area of 2,489 square feet composed of 120 panels with an annual production of 53,000 kWh per hour. Our recently completed 400KW rooftop solar array at our Member Care Center is estimated to produce 674,999 kWh annually and is expected to save Suncoast $70,000 a year at current utility rates.
What kind of financial investment does installing solar panels require? At what kinds of locations do you install panels?
BK: The investment varies but is typically 5% of a new construction budget. We recently completed systems on a new 4,000-square-foot branch, a 7,000-square-foot training center, and a 10,000-square-foot two-story service center.
How long does it take to break even on the upfront costs?
BK: The cash flow payback is typically between 10 to 11 years on the solar array systems.
How will Suncoast’s sustainability efforts continue in the coming years?
BK: We will continue to study additional projects we believe can become net-zero facilities. We’ll complete construction this year on two green branches in LaBelle and Ft. Myers, Florida. Our most exciting project under construction is our 108,000-square-foot administration building that will incorporate many of the green strategies we have found successful at other facilities. That’s scheduled to be completed in 2018.
What best practices or lessons has Suncoast learned since starting its green initiatives?
BK: The reduction in dollars per watts in the cost of photovoltaic installations has been one of the most significant drivers in choosing renewable energy resources, such as solar. We’ve also learned the importance of coordinating with the local utility providers to complete projects. And we have learned our members appreciate this because, in the long run, it is good for them, too.
This interview has been edited and condensed.