Letcher County grocery store cuts costs by adding solar panels

Published: Sep. 9, 2020 at 10:44 AM EDT
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ISOM, Ky. (WYMT) - One Eastern Kentucky grocery store is saving money on its power bill thanks to the recent addition of a renewable energy source.

Twenty five miles from Hazard and 13 miles from Whitesburg sits the Isom IGA.

“It’s me, my husband and my son and we have 25 other employees,” said Gwen Christon, owner of the Isom IGA. Gwen Christon and her family have owned the store since the 1980′s and she says one thing had remained the same that she knew needed to change--a $12,000 electric bill.

“I can control the payroll, I can control repair, I can control supplies, I can control all those expenses that you have to pay when you’re running a business; but one thing I could not control was my electric bill." she said.

Christon would team up with the USDA Rural Energy for America Program, or REAP, ready for change.

“All the produce was open, the air was coming out,” she said. Those in the program telling her that is where her largest power usage was coming from. “When your coolers are trying to keep your product cold it is cooling your whole store.”

Replacing her produce, dairy and frozen items to inside coolers. “That reduced our power bill from $12,000 down to seven," said Christon.

Next she replaced fluorescent lighting with LED lights, saving $1,200 per month. The next big step would be the roof.

“I had a roof it was leaking and all that type thing and they said actually solar is your next thing," she said.

Isom IGA joins two other businesses in the area that have installed solar panels on their buildings in the past to help cut costs.

Cutting those costs on electric allowed Christon to lower store prices.

“Being able to reduce my prices so that I could be more competitive to other stores meant that I have increased business. I have people that shop with me now I’ve never shopped with me before and so we have added other employees on.”

In a news release from the Mountain Association, owner Gwen Christon said through several upgrades to the store and with the panels, she is now saving around $38,000 each year on energy costs.

“This community is my community. I love it, I’m proud of it, I want it to survive,” said Christon in the release. “The store gives stability to our community.”

The finished renovation project includes a new roof, lighting, refrigeration and solar panels. All of those upgrades together were funded by a more than $127,000 grant from the USDA Rural Energy for America Program, or REAP, and from financing from the Mountain Association.

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