May 10, 2009

Soaking up the sun

US Floors is going green with solar panels

Charles Oliver

US Floors has completed the first phase of what will be one of the state’s largest privately owned solar power systems.

The roof of the company’s headquarters and plant on Corporate Drive now holds 180 solar panels that can generate 31.5 kilowatts of electricity. When the project is finished, probably in the spring of 2010, it will be capable of generating more than 94 kilowatts, enough to supply most of the plant’s energy needs.

“It will be close. We are making some changes in the plant to reduce energy demand, so with the

additional two steps we’ll get close, but I don’t think we’ll be at 100 percent,” said US Floors president and CEO Piet Dossche.

Dossche said state and federal tax credits help make the project possible.

“The state incentive is 35 percent of the investment, and the federal is 30 percent of the investment,” he said. “But even with the federal and state incentives, you really have to be determined to do it because its not really economically viable by itself.”

U.S. Floors specializes in floorcoverings made from environmentally friendly sources such as bamboo and cork.

“They are two of the most sustainable and renewable resources that you can use,” said US Floors marketing manager Gary Keeble.

The cork used for floors, he says, is actually a byproduct of the manufacturing of cork used to top wine bottles. In addition, he says, cork trees aren’t actually felled. The bark is peeled away and will later grow back, allowing the trees to be harvested for decades.

“And bamboo, when you cut that stalk, multiple plants will regenerate from that plant. In addition, bamboo sequesters about 35 percent more carbon from the atmosphere than an oak tree,” he said.

Dossche said US Floors has made a number of other changes in the building — such as changing to lights that use less energy and changes to its compressors — and the company hopes to get it certified by the U.S. Green Building Council as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building.

He says it’s important to customers not only that the products the company supplies are environmentally friendly but that the company practices what it preaches in every area of its business.

“These people want to make sure that you are really willing to step up to the plate,” he said.

US Floors started in 2001 as an importer and began manufacturing its own product in November 2008 after securing tax incentives for its expansion from the Dalton-Whitfield Joint Development Authority. It currently employs more than 100.

The solar energy system was designed by United Renewable Energy of Alpharetta.

“It’s going to be one of the largest privately owned systems in the state,” said United’s director of sales Shana Haygood.

Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce president Brian Anderson said he sees a growing interest in “green and renewable” products and technology among local firms.

“I don’t think it’s as in-your-face as it is in, say, California,” he said. “But in California, it has been mandated, whereas here, people are doing it because they think it’s the right thing to do.”

Anderson said he is concerned that the federal government might impose costly mandates on industry to adopt renewable energy. He says providing tax credits and other incentives is a better way to encourage businesses to move to solar and other alternative types of power.