St. Petersburg beer distributor installs the state's largest commercial solar array

Solar panels to reduce power bill by up to 90%

ST. PETERSBURG - Despite being dubbed the Sunshine State, Florida lags far behind many cloudier states when it comes to solar power.

But there's a shining exception in St. Petersburg, where the hot sun is being used to keep beer cold.

Great Bay Distributors in St. Petersburg has recently erected a new warehouse that has the largest commercial rooftop solar array in all of Florida with 4,590 panels.

"We have a 186,00 square foot roof with the sun shining there all day. Why wouldn't you build it? So we did," said Great Bay owner Ron Petrini.

Great Bay Distributors deals in beer, mostly Budweiser. Keeping all those suds cool would normally cost about $75,000 a month in electricity costs. The solar system is projected to cut that bill that by 90 percent and reduce carbon emissions equal to the planting of 1.1 million trees.

Petrini is far from a left leaning tree hugger but takes pride in saving energy.

"I believe in clean air. I believe in the environment. I believe we should do whatever we can within reason to take care of it," Petrini said.

Solar Energy Management designed and built the solar project for a building that also has energy saving details throughout, from the LED lighting to high-speed refrigerator doors that keep in the cold.

Solar Energy Management owner Brett Emes says the $2.2 million project will pay for itself in just six years, after which time the company will basically own their own power plant and be increasingly independent from Duke Energy.

"It's empowering to know that you're not beholden to someone who can change your rates any time they want and you can't do anything about it," Emes said.

Florida is one of the few states that does not offer incentives for solar projects either commercial or residential. A ballot amendment planned for next year would allow companies like Great Bay to sell their excess power to other businesses, something the law in Florida currently doesn't allow.