Business owner Jim Henderson is big on solar
Jim Henderson's office doesn't seem all that different from any other one belonging to a busy executive.
His desk, which sits out in the open, is cluttered with paper and things to do. He apologizes, sharing his reason for the mess: "I'm a very visual person."
What you can't see from his desk is what Henderson is most eager to talk about — a solar system on his roof that's big enough to power a 34,000-square-foot building and a 10,000-square-foot expansion of its warehouse, which is nearly complete.
"This addition is going to be one of the most efficient warehouses in all of Southwest Florida," Henderson said.
Henderson, the sole owner of William C. Huff Cos. in East Naples, a moving and storage company for the well-to-do, flipped the switch on solar power at his headquarters more than a year ago. Now he gives talks about it to encourage homeowners and other business owners to follow in his footsteps.
Later this month Henderson will be part of a panel discussion on solar at Naples Botanical Garden. His thoughts on it will be sunny.
"There's misinformation about solar and its benefits, and misinformation is different than ignorance," he said. "The fact that we can now harness the sun I think is the coolest thing ever."
Henderson hasn't adopted solar at his home yet, but he plans to have it installed in the next few months.
"I can't push you to put solar on your house if I don't have it on mine," he said, "can I?"
Switching to solar can be even more advantageous to homeowners because they don't face the same regulatory issues with utility companies that business owners do, Henderson said.
"I'm an advocate because I think individuals have more power than they know to change the way we handle electricity," he said. "Dollar for dollar, it's a good investment. There's zero reason to not do it."
The "powers that be," Henderson said, referring to utility companies but not wanting to name any of them, have misguided Florida residents and business owners about the cost and effectiveness of solar.
"Obviously utilities are losing revenue. Can you blame them?" Henderson asked rhetorically.
Before he installed solar power at his business, Henderson said he paid $3,000 a month for air conditioning to cool his building in the summer, a cost that really heated him up.
He keeps the temperature at 74 degrees or lower in his warehouse to protect what's in storage, from rare statues to expensive paintings to one-of-a-kind furniture.
Collier County has one of the most delicate ecosystems in the country, and that's another good reason to look at solar as a greener source of energy, Henderson said.
"It's important because Florida is one of the fastest-growing states," he said. "People are coming in droves. They just are, and we use so much electricity per capita in this state."
The federal government offers a 30 percent tax credit for the installation of solar, but no state incentives are available in Florida.
"It's the Sunshine State," Henderson said. "So go figure."
At William C. Huff there are three primary philosophies: taking care of staff, getting involved in the community and protecting the environment. The company reuses and recycles paper, wood and cardboard. Trucks have low emissions, and the company recently invested in a more energy-efficient air conditioning system.
"My generation and the ones before me did a lot to pollute the environment. It's time to make changes to leave a legacy of a cleaner environment," Henderson said.
In a year, he said, solar power reduces his company's carbon dioxide emissions by more than 125 tons.
"I produce more energy than I use, to the point where I'm at a negative carbon footprint," Henderson said.
The company still pays a hefty bill for peak hour demand but plans to eliminate that with battery backup, which it plans to install later this year.
In a little over a year the solar panels have generated 210 megawatts of power. That's enough to charge 8,500 electric cars, Henderson said.
"When the sun is out, you can hear it making energy," he said. "It's the coolest thing to know power is being made."
He likes the feeling of not relying on others for his electricity. "Independence is the American way, not dependence," he said.
The cost to install the system was $245,000 after the 30 percent federal tax credit. Henderson expects to make his money back within seven years of throwing the switch on solar. The system, with 528 panels, is expected to last 25 years.
As utilities continue to raise their rates, solar makes even more sense, Henderson said.
"You own your own system," he said. "If the rates go up, your rates don't go up. That's the beauty. It's a fixed price."
When he decided to install solar at his building, Henderson reached out to his friend Neville Williams, a solar entrepreneur, journalist and author, for advice. "I put my money where his mouth is," Henderson said.
"The clean photovoltaic power will reduce William C. Huff's carbon footprint by approximately 3,500 tons over its lifetime," Williams said. "That's a lot of CO2. Jim wants to 'do the right thing,' and he has."
Rob Moher, president and CEO of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, said Henderson is a leader in the business community when it comes to advocating for solar, with the largest solar system on a commercial building in Collier County.
The conservancy has a few solar panels as part of its larger mission to be energy-efficient on its Naples campus.
"Solar is a more sustainable energy source," Moher said. "Also, traditional power sources tend to use a lot of water, and water is a finite resource in Florida. So we are very supportive of power generation that does not require a lot of freshwater resources."
Henderson hired Urban Solar Group to install the solar system, a project that took about three months. The Boca Raton-based company had experience putting solar on homes in Naples.
William C. Huff has another location in New Hampshire where Henderson plans to install solar this summer.
"We're getting quotes right now. The numbers look pretty good there, and they have lots of state incentives there," he said.
Eventually, Henderson said he wants to buy an electric car, when the prices come down.
William C. Huff relocated to Southwest Florida 22 years ago. Its headquarters sits on 2½ acres in an industrial hub off Progress Avenue, property Henderson has owned for 14 years.
The warehouse expansion is just part of a larger improvement project that will upgrade his dated offices. The cost of the project, which includes adding marble tile floors and raising the ceilings, is estimated at about $1.5 million.
"Image is important," Henderson said. "We want to be more in line with our clients."
For more information about William C. Huff, visit www.WilliamCHuff.com.
If You Go
Who: League of Women Voters of Collier County
What: Panel discussion on "What's Next for Solar in Florida"
When: 6-7:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Kapnick Center Auditorium, Naples Botanical Garden, 4820 Bayshore Drive
The event is open to the public, and no registration is required. For more information, email email@example.com