Builder cuts down on carbon footprint

David Hall of Deltec Homes says his company doesn't believe in cutting corners when making its trademark round homes — and that attention to detail extends to the electricity used to power the company's plant.

By year's end, Deltec will be using 100% renewable energy at its factory, making it North Carolina's largest private generator of solar power.

Working with Sundance Energy of Mars Hill, N.C., Deltec has invested nearly $500,000 to install photovoltaic panels.

On the flat roof, 273 black panels are angled to catch the sun's rays and convert that natural energy into electricity.

Inside, the plant's 100 workers build up to two custom-made homes each day. The homes are shipped and assembled across the country, as well as in Canada, the Caribbean and Europe.

The solar panels should pay for themselves within 10 years as the company cuts its power bills and collects state and federal tax credits for renewable energy.

But beyond benefiting the company's bottom line, installing the solar system "is simply the right thing to do," says Hall, Deltec's president and chief executive. "We can use solar power and cut down on our carbon footprint."

With the photovoltaic panels and the additional purchase of renewable energy credits, Deltec aims to remove 208 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually that would otherwise have been generated by one of Progress Energy's pgncoal-burning plants, according to Steve Linton, Deltec's green building coordinator.

Deltec's round homes have won national attention for their resistance to hurricane-force winds, but the company has always considered itself a green builder, seeking ways to cut waste and increase manufacturing efficiency.

For Dave Hollister of Sundance Energy, the Deltec project has been his largest since he founded his solar company in 1995. But he doesn't expect it to be his last for a commercial client. Hollister has added a commercial division to his company.

"We're working with other manufacturers even bigger than Deltec," Hollister says.

"Corporations are starting to feel pressure to become more carbon-neutral. They see solar power as an opportunity to enhance their marketability," he says.

With tax credits, companies can get back up to 65% of their investment, and the power they generate and sell as renewable credits can pay 14 cents to 15 cents per kilowatt hour, Hollister says.

Progress Energy expects more companies to add renewable energy to their product lines, though alternative energy from solar, wind and hydro generators now represents a fraction of the electricity generated for the grid.

With rising energy costs ahead, companies such as Deltec are using good business sense, but they also want to do good for their communities, Hollister says.

"When I'm talking with CEOs, they see a strategic opportunity," Hollister says. "Going solar helps the bottom line, and being a good corporate citizen is the icing on the cake."