The new covered parking lot at Directors Investment Group, the holding company for¬†Funeral Directors Life, is not just a protective place for employees’ vehicles.
More than 1,300 solar panels recently were installed over the parking slots¬†to generate 806,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually ‚Äď¬†more than enough to power corporate headquarters at 6550 Directors Parkway, said Addison Templeton, executive vice president/chief operations officer.¬†
The switch was made about mid-July.¬†The company said in a news release that it is the “first Abilene business to introduce solar power on this scale.”
The parking lot was part of a 35,000-square-foot expansion project at the 37-year-old Abilene business¬†announced in December 2018, according to Reporter-News files. The Development Corporation of Abilene provided a $1.03 million incentive package for the $6.9¬†million addition.¬†
The new space accommodates Funeral Director Life’s growing line of business services, such as a recently acquired software company, for the funeral home industry beyond selling pre-need funeral insurance policies and annuities, Templeton said.¬†
At the time¬†the expansion was announced, DIG employed more than 160 people and was expected to add about 70 more in the next five years, according to Reporter-News files.
Today,¬†staffing stands at 206, Templeton said.
“Over the last five years technology has become a core part of our business. We just acquired a software company that provides admin software to funeral homes, and so with the software company we have to hire development staff, support staff,” he said.¬†
Staff also is being added to provide marketing services for funeral homes.
Covered parking on the north side of the company’s campus has been a long-standing¬†employee perk.
During planning for¬†the second covered lot on the east side of the building, someone thought, “‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do solar?’ We started researching it, looking at it,” Templeton said.¬†
With the additional office space, managers estimated that the annual cost of consuming¬†600,000 to 650,000 kWh¬†of energy at headquarters would be $50,000 to $60,000 annually, Templeton said.
“From a business perspective, it made a lot of financial sense. We can get anywhere from an eight- to 10-year return on investment on it,” he said.
That ROI calculation includes a 2019 federal solar tax credit of 30 percent¬†on¬†the cost of installing a solar energy system. The credit dropped to¬†26 percent for 2020.¬†
There also is an added benefit difficult to quantify in monetary terms, Templeton said.¬†
“From an employee perspective, we have a strategic objective that we want to be a great place to work, so we thought it would be optimal to offer covered parking spaces with solar as well as powering our building through it,” he said.
Employees are proud of the company’s use of renewable energy, he said.¬†
“It excites them to be able to work at a place where we think a little bit differently,” Templeton said.¬†
Texas Solar Power Company based in Austin handled the installation of the new system.¬†
“They were very experienced with large-scale projects,”¬†Templeton said.¬†
Solar technology has seen major advancements in the last 10 years, Templeton said, and the panels are “very weather resistant.” That includes withstanding softball-sized hail. The panels have¬†at least a 25-year life expectancy.¬†
“The great thing about installing solar panels is that they are actually small panels so if a couple get damaged, it is easy to take them out and replace them,” Templeton said.
Because a battery bank is a significant invest, the solar system is tied into the regular electrical meter, allowing the company also to receive electricity from the grid on cloudy days, he said.¬†
But, because the system is expected to send annually to the grid¬†more electricity than it consumes, the company is able to state it is 100 percent powered by solar energy, Templeton said.¬†
The solar project is a reflection of the company’s commitment to using technology internally to increase efficiencies and for the benefit of its clients in 36 states.¬†
“Technology is driving a lot of our business around here, and I think solar panel ties into technology,” Templeton said. “Our employees continue to reap the benefits of that, but also to continue to ask questions of, ‘What next?’ We like challenging what is and what could be around here.”
Laura Gutschke is a general assignment reporter¬†and food columnist and manages online content for the Reporter-News. ¬†If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists¬†with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.¬†