And Wilbur’s of Maine Chocolate Confections sets up a free electric car-charging station.
By Larry Grard
KeepMECurrent news story
Tom Wilbur believes he is serving the public good by installing solar panels and other energy-saving devices at his company’s chocolate factory in Freeport.
Now, he is taking it a step further by helping like-minded people who own electric cars.
Less than a month after Maine Solar Solutions built solar panels onto the roof of the big building where Wilbur’s of Maine Chocolate Confections are made, Wilbur has installed a car-charging station outside and made it available for free to anyone who drives up. While Wilbur might hope that people who stop by for a charge might also venture into his shop, he firmly believes there is a much greater cause in play.
“This is a small contribution,” Wilbur said early last week, as he opened the package containing the charger, brought to him by Maine Solar Solutions owner Sam Zuckerman. “I believe this will be the first in Freeport. The more electric car chargers that are installed and available, there might be more electric cars in use.”
And the more people use the chocolate factory’s charging station, the more people will know about it.
“Electric car owners enter a location on an app, on a smartphone, and it automatically populates that website,” Zuckerman said.
A car-charging station might be a small contribution, but there’s nothing small regarding what Tom and Catherine Carty-Wilbur have done – and plan to do – at their Chocolate Factory location at 174 Lower Main St., which produces the chocolate confections sold on site, and at locations at 13 Bow St. in Freeport, and 132 Maine St. in Brunswick. The 56 solar panels will feed 15.4 kilowatts of power into the grid, and produce enough electricity for all three Wilbur’s locations.
“To me,” Wilbur said, “reducing the carbon footprint is important. I don’t think that there’s any doubt that we should reduce our carbon footprint. I think solar is an important step. With tax breaks, small businesses can afford to do this. We can’t afford to build a giant windmill, but we can afford to install a few panels on our roof.”
In addition to decreasing his reliance on the fossil fuels that produce electricity, and thus reducing their carbon footprint, the Wilburs also will enjoy a financial savings from the panels, which Maine Solar installed for $43,000. With tax breaks, Wilbur said, the system should pay for itself in six years. The savings include what Zuckerman estimated to be $4,500 in annual electricity costs, and the built-in tax incentives.
The panels produce electricity at no further cost than the installment charge, and there is no maintenance cost, Zuckerman said. The expected lifespan of the panels is 40 years and the components are guaranteed for 25 years, he said.
“I researched,” Wilbur said. “I’ve been wanting to do solar for years. I interviewed four solar installers. I chose Sam for one large reason, that he was going to use U.S.-made panels.”
Zuckerman explained the tax incentives for going solar.
“Solar electric systems are available for a 30 percent federal tax credit,” said Zuckerman, who installs both commercial and residential property owners. “Those are dollars that can be applied to your federal tax bill. Also, business customers can depreciate the cost, and it recovers up to 30 percent as a tax credit. Those two things help to increase the cash flow, and to reduce the overall cost of the system.”
Wilbur’s also is in the process of replacing all 100 of its antique windows with energy-efficient windows and replacing its fluorescent fixtures. Only seven years ago, Wilbur said, those fixtures were the most energy efficient available.
Three years ago, Wilbur’s converted from propane heat to natural gas, a source that he considers “not as dirty.”
The solar panels also will enable Wilbur’s to save on heating costs. Wilbur’s has four heat pumps at the chocolate factory.
“These panels are for electricity, which can offset the electricity needed for the heat pumps,” Wilbur said.
Wilbur said that he and his wife are considering an electric car.
“I drove one once, and it got 50 miles between charges,” he said. “Expectations are that will be much greater.”
Zuckerman said that the Chocolate Factory roof is well suited for solar panels.
“It faces south-southwest, and has a good pitch,” he said. “When we design systems, we need to determine how much energy they’re going to produce. These systems are very efficient. They crank. It sheds snow well. The panels are glass.”
Zuckerman said that it might come as a surprise that Maine has a high amount of sunny days – the most of the three northern New England states, and more than Germany, the highest user of solar panels in the world.
Customers who visit the Chocolate Factory shop will be able to keep track of that efficiency.
“We’re going to put a monitor up in the store, so that people will actually be able to see the solar production,” Wilbur said. “There’s an educational component to this.”
The Wilburs, who both were teachers, came to Maine in 1979. Six years later, he began making chocolate in the basement of their Flying Point Road home. They opened the Bow Street shop 31 years ago. The Wilburs bought the old Tontine Fine Candies in Brunswick in 1987, and in 1993 Wilbur’s expanded its candy-making operation to 32 Independence Drive in Freeport, near the present Chocolate Factory. They added on four times, and in 2008 settled on the present location.
Wilbur’s employs 30 people.