Portland coffee pioneers now exploring solar system

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PORTLAND — A tangle of fat electric wire tentacles, maybe a dozen, reached out from a  street-side utility pole toward Coffee By Design’s Washington Avenue roastery, starkly visible from the second floor conference room where Mary Allen Lindemann sat explaining why, by week’s end, the local caffeine experts will scarcely have need for them.

On Monday, the popular coffee chain began installing a 44-panel solar energy system on the roof that shelters their offices, roastery, and satellite coffee shop. It should meet much of their electricity needs and bring them one step closer to the company’s ultimate goal of 100 percent sustainability.

“It’s so core to who we are as a company. This is a dream come true,” said Lindemann, who co-owns the company with her husband, Alan Spear.

They have already instituted programs to compost their coffee grounds, recycle as much as possible at the four Coffee By Design locations, and keep the main roasting and grinding operation on the Portland peninsula, within walking or biking distance of most employees’ homes.

With the solar system producing enough energy to power two homes each year, “we’re going to be self sufficient” or close to it, Lindemann said.

“For us it’s just a win-win project,” she said, one that allows them to honor environmental obligations, and save money at the same time – nearly $2,000 a year, according to the company’s application for a $20,000 grant from Efficiency Maine that allowed the company to go ahead with the project.

Jen Hatch, the marketing manager for ReVision Energy, a company that specializes in solar heating and electricity, and will install CBD’s system, said installing a solar energy system is akin to prepaying for electricity, while guaranteeing that the power is free for as much as 40 years. Carbon dioxide emissions, too, will be slashed.

After the grant and Maine tax credits, the coffee company’s investment in clean energy will pay for itself within eight years, according to Hatch. Lindemann said the project will pay for itself in just four.

It’s also a project that nearly didn’t happen. After securing the grant funding in 2010, the company found itself desperate to expand its roasting operation and forced to rent more warehouse space. A new roof demanded further delays.

“Our personal investment is going to be well over $20,000,” Lindemann said. The company has never had a steady line of credit, she said; she and Spear prefer to invest in new equipment only when they are certain they can pay for it.

But when ReVision, which acted as a consultant on the original grant proposal two years ago, called earlier this year to ask if CBD planned on letting the April 30 deadline to use the grant funding go by, Lindemann and Spear realized they couldn’t pass up the opportunity, she said.

Just a few months earlier, the solar roof might have seemed too far off to reach, but things began to line up. A January coffee price hike had increased revenues, and with little prodding, a bank had lined up credit. The new warehouse operation had settled down into a routine; mild spring weather meant that re-roofing the building was completed quickly.

“Everything was making us realize that it was really just silly not to move forward on this,” Lindemann said.

The project will further cement CBD’s place as an environmental leader in the business sphere, Hatch said, but it’s also gaining traction with another, perhaps more important constituency: customers.

“I don’t remember when we’d had that many ‘likes’ on our Facebook page” as on April 5, when they posted that the installation was about to begin, Lindemann said. “I wish it had been about coffee, but people were really excited about it.”

Andrew Cullen can be reacher at 781-3661 ext. 100, or at acullen@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter at: ACullenFore.