By SC Reporter Reese Holiday, Photos by SC Associate Publisher Chuck Larsen
Located in the heart of Sanibel on Periwinkle Way, Bailey’s General Store has been providing grocery, hardware and gifting needs to visitors and residents of the island for generations.
Now, those needs are being supplied in a more cost effective and environmentally friendly way as Bailey’s has saved some of its energy use through renewable energy sources.
The most recent addition of these sources is the store’s solar panels, which owner Richard Johnson said are a part of Bailey’s plan to not only save some money on energy use, but to also help save the environment.
“I don’t have to burn electric energy that’s produced by coal, nuclear or even natural gas; carbon emitting sources,” Johnson said. “That’s why I made the step to help control the cost of doing business, and the footprint that I leave on the environment.”
The solar panels can be found covering Bailey’s flat rooftop, absorbing sunlight to power the store. But these panels are just one of the several changes to Baileys, helping it save energy and money.
Johnson said Baileys started its journey towards sustainability over a decade ago, replacing several of the store’s money and energy draining equipment with more efficient sources, like removing the store’s six, 80-gallon commercial electric water heaters with a heat recovery system attached to its refrigeration system.
Johnson said this change was necessary as the heating of water is one of the highest types of energy consumption. The change also creates a more efficient refrigeration system, using heat from the refrigeration’s cooling process to warm the water.
Baileys also replaced most of its open cased retail displays for cold food with closed in doors, keeping the cold that is admitted by the cooling systems inside of the case and out of the open store air.
In terms of lighting, Baileys had less efficient fluorescent lights replaced with brighter and cheaper to run LED ones with over one thousand of the new bulbs illuminating the store.
Johnson said all of these energy changes came before the installation of solar panels because the store had to figure out how much energy it was consuming with the new changes before it could figure out how much energy to produce with solar panels.
“We did all of those things in preparation for installing our solar panels so that we can install the correct number of solar panels,” Johnson said. “You really don’t want to be in a position where you produce more energy than you consume. It’s not nearly as cost effective as if you are using everything you produce.”
Once the solar panels were installed, along with the rest of the energy saving equipment going to work, Johnson said Baileys electric bill went from about $25,000 to just $7,000 a month.
But along with saving money, Johnson said Baileys also wants to do its part in saving the environment, specifically when it comes to one of Sanibel’s biggest issues in sea level rise.
He said the science is undeniable when it comes to whether the sea level is rising, but the cause of that rise is still debated. Johnson said he believes that rising sea levels are caused by human activities and reducing Bailey’s energy consumption is just a small but necessary step to fixing that problem.
“Those of us that believe in carbon sequestration, and all of the aspects of environmental stewardess, will argue that man is the one that is causing a lot of [sea level rise],” Johnson said. “We have to change our ways. That’s one of the big reasons that Baileys is headed down this way.”
Johnson said other businesses on the island are taking a similar approach to their energy consumption as well, noting the Sanibel and Captiva Community Bank’s use of solar power in its two locations.
But while Baileys has significantly lowered its energy consumption, the store still needs to rely on basic energy sources, along with renewable ones, to power its equipment. Even with this, Johnson said humans still need to tread lightly on our Earth because it isn’t indestructible, just resistant.
Over the past decade, Baileys has shown that the store can and is treading lightly on nature. By doing so, the store is saving money, saving the environment and taking advantage of the immense sun production in a state that has plenty to go around.
“We live in the ‘Sunshine State,’” Johnson said via email. “Solar power just makes sense from all angles.”