Tedd Benson knows it is not enough to build sustainable homes. The manufacturing process that creates those homes must also walk the “green” talk.
Benson, the founder of Bensonwood and its sister company, Unity Homes, opened a new 110,000-square-foot manufacturing facility on Production Avenue in Keene last year. The repurposed building, once a medical supplies warehouse, is not only producing panels for Unity Homes’ sustainable buildings, but it is also powered by the sun.
The cavernous warehouse was not only a good fit for a manufacturing facility for the growing Unity Homes’ business, but the expanse of the building’s flat roof was perfect for mounting a photovoltaic array. Two months after the grand opening celebration last year, Unity Homes switched on a 136-kilowatt photovoltaic array, mounted on the roof with the assistance of Green Energy Options in Keene.
Bensonwood and Unity Homes join a small, but growing, number of companies using solar energy to power manufacturing facilities. Some of the most significant operational manufacturing facilities using renewable energy to power production in the U.S. include the Volkswagen, Tesla and Apple.
“The solar array produces 40% of the electricity we need to operate this facility,” notes Sarah Kossayda, director of marketing, during a March tour of the facility.
In a press release announcing the activation of the array, Benson said that it’s another step toward Bensonwood/Unity Homes commitment to sustainable and clean technology buildings.
“We are proud that we can now say we build energy-efficient homes in a facility that is powered by renewable energy,” says Benson.
Kossayda notes that the 136-kilowatt array was just the first phase of the project.
“We’ve just added another 122-kilowatt array that will be up and running soon,” she says. “When it is fully online, it will supply 60 to 70% of our demand for electricity.”
The Unity Homes facility on Production Avenue operates mainly in the day when the sun is shining, but that might change someday soon. Projecting forward, Unity Homes is working with Green Energy Options to identify and install a battery system that can store the electricity produced when the facility is not at full production or when it’s idle.
“The mission of our company is to improve people’s lives through our products and processes,” says Kossayda. “What we produce are homes that are healthy for people and the planet. The solar array supports that mission because we are reducing our carbon footprint.”
While Unity uses traditional trucks to deliver panels to job sites, notes Kossayda, on their wish list is a fleet of electric trucks.
“You should see our guys planning all the electric trucks we are going to have,” she says with a smile.
And because there’s very little actual construction at job sites, the impact on the environs is minimal as is waste.
“We are so precise here on Production Avenue that we are reducing waste at the job site,” says Kossayda. “These job sites have maybe one trash can of waste, and that’s mostly what’s left over from lunch.”
Kossayda says the ultimate goal for Unity Homes is to produce healthy, efficient homes for middle-class Americans, such as firefighters and teachers.
Bensonwood/Unity employs about 130 people in Keene and Walpole and in a small fine-woodworking shop in Alstead, where staircases and detailed doors and other items are made.
Learn more at https://bensonwood.com/powering-production-with-the-sun. T
Robert Audette writes from Swanzey, New Hampshire.