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Clear skies and sunshine mean more than just a pretty day to small business owner Tom Moore.

With 192 solar panels spanning 8,000 square feet along the roof of his Trucks 'N Trailers USA business, Moore not only appreciates sunny days, but counts on them to bring his energy costs down.

"It makes an impact for us on the financial side, but also on the environmental side," he said of the recently installed panels. "It cuts our expenses, but it's also the right thing to do."

Outfitting an entire roof with solar panels doesn't come cheaply. Moore estimated the investment was about $240,000, but he didn't have to foot the entire bill.

Funding from state government's Clean Energy Technology Grant Program, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and a $1,000 incentive from the Tennessee Valley Authority for becoming a Green Power Switch generation partner slashed the cost by about 60 to 70 percent.

"From a small business standpoint, without them we never could have afforded to make this investment," he said.

Jeff Cannon, co-director of Greenspaces, said the availability right now for both state and federal grants to install solar panels creates "kind of the perfect storm."

But businesses don't have much longer to easily cash in on the opportunity. Beginning Jan. 1, the federal grant reverts back to a tax credit, Cannon said.

"The way the economy has been in the last couple of years, a tax credit doesn't really do anything for a small business owner," he said. "If you're thinking about doing a solar system in the next five years, you can't have a better time than right now."

HOW IT WORKS

The panels face south at a 35-degree angle for maximum sun capture, and can generate 33.6 kilowatts per hour.

That's enough to offset Trucks 'N Trailers' energy daily bill by about 25 percent during the summer, and an overall 50 percent to 60 percent when including hours the business isn't open.

"In the wintertime, it'll be even more because we won't be using our air conditioning," Moore said. "In winter, it will be as much as 60 to 70 percent, which becomes impressive."

From about 7:45 a.m. to 7 p.m. the panels capture sunlight and transform it into usable energy. TVA buys excess power back for 12 cents above retail price, which eventually will translate into big savings for Trucks 'N Trailers, Moore said.

On average, the business generates 5,000 kilowatts per month and gets a credit of about $1,100 on the electrical bill for the panels.

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