Wisconsin-based Ashley Furniture intends to spend $29 million on solar panels to power its factories as part of a plan to offset more than a third of its energy needs.
The company, with electricity demands equivalent to roughly 12,500 Wisconsin homes, expects to trim its electric bills by $5 million in the first year alone.
“We need a lot of energy to manufacture our products and it only makes sense to use renewable sources,” founder and chairman Ron Wanek said in a written statement. “This is a long-term investment, not only for Ashley, but for our environment. We are taking proactive steps and hope to see others in our industry join us.”
The first phase of installations — scheduled to begin this month at a distribution center in Romeoville, Ill. — involve about 17.5 megawatts of capacity, said Chad Sorenson, president of Madison-based SunPeak, which is handling the design, construction, and maintenance of the projects.
Included in that is a roughly 7-megawatt system on the roof of Ashley’s headquarters campus in Arcadia, which would be the largest rooftop solar system in the state, according to Renew Wisconsin.
Ashley’s goal is to offset 35 percent of its electricity needs, which will likely result in the installation of more panels in the future.
Solar panels are planned for factories in California, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Those in Arcadia and Ecru, Miss., likely to be the largest.
Ashley will join Wisconsin-based companies like Epic Systems and American Family Insurance, which have systems larger than 1 megawatt. Target and Walmart have long been national leaders, with more than 100 megawatts each, while tech giants have contracted for record amounts of solar energy to power data centers.
“More and more businesses see solar power as an opportunity to, number 1, make a cost-effective investment in reducing their operating costs… and pairing that with sustainability and environmental benefits,” said Tyler Huebner, executive director of Renew Wisconsin.
Sorenson said the size of the projects allowed the company to save money on both the parts and the engineering.
“The price Ashley’s getting is probably a new high-water mark for the commercial rooftop industry,” he said.
The system planned for the 52-acre rooftop of the Arcadia facility would be larger than any single solar facility currently operating in Wisconsin and larger than one being installed by the local utility.
“It’s almost like a city under a roof,” Sorenson said.
Ashley’s fleet of electric forklifts and pallet-jacks provides an existing storage system that Sorenson said will make the solar panels even more effective.
An Ashley spokesman said the company plans to use all the energy generated on site, rather than selling excess power back to local utilities.
Sorenson, who founded SunPeak in 2014, said this will be the company’s largest project to date.
“It’s a huge deal,” he said. “This is a big step up for us. It’s a real national customer that everybody’s heard of.”