Jeff Brandfon’s modest-sized dealership in Branford, Conn., is at the pinnacle of green-dealer awards that American Honda has given to more than 150 stores for reducing energy and water usage over the past five years.
In one phase of a global drive to reduce the automaker’s carbon dioxide emissions by half over 50 years, American Honda Motor Co. since 2012 has awarded green-dealer honors to dealerships and other stores selling its Honda and Acura brands.
Brandfon Honda is one of 28 that have earned platinum-level awards, the top of three tiers. But it’s one of only three U.S. Honda stores to reach electric grid neutrality. That means that the amount of energy used from renewable sources equals or exceeds the amount consumed from local electric utilities.
Dealer Principal Jeff Brandfon, 62, says it’s great to be green, but his $300,000 investment in 549 rooftop solar panels connected to the local electric grid is only half the story.
Grid neutrality, as he sees it, is good business.
“We ran the numbers, and with tax credits it was a no-brainer,” Brandfon says. “It pays for itself in five years, and then electricity is free for us after that.”
With proper maintenance, the solar-power system is expected to have a 20-year useful life. Beyond the rooftop panels, the dealership’s system has DC/AC inverters to convert the direct current generated during daylight hours by the solar panels into alternating current for the dealership’s electrical needs. Any excess power generated is directed into the power grid of Eversource, an operating coalition of public utilities in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
The system was installed during the summer of 2013, putting the store — which sells about 1,200 new and 1,200 used vehicles a year — on schedule to pay off the initial investment in 2018.
“So far, we’re matching the projected numbers,” Brandfon said. “And every month, it’s nice to get a residual check from Eversource.”
The two other electric-grid neutral stores are a Honda engine distributorship, Eastern Equipment in Derry, N.H., and Rossi Honda in Vineland, N.J., which installed 900 solar panels. Rossi Honda’s website details other green steps, including more energy-efficient lighting, recycling and plantings that require less watering.
And, the website adds, the green savings “add up and allow us to pass the savings on to you, our valued customer.”
Since it launched the green-dealer program in 2012, American Honda calculates participating dealerships reduced carbon dioxide emissions by a cumulative 35,000 metric tons.
On an annual basis, the program “is helping to reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 19,000 metric tons [which is] equivalent to 2,800 homes’ worth of electricity use each year,” said Steve Center, American Honda vice president of connected and environmental development, in a statement. “Reducing energy and water use are achievable goals that can save money, address climate change and inspire others.”
In August, American Honda launched a new phase to broaden the green-dealer program’s reach. It includes an updated and expanded website, Media aimed at Honda and Acura dealers but open to dealers of any brand.
The downloadable Green Dealer Guide on the site provides step-by-step guidance on reaching energy and water reduction goals. That includes tools to track waste and recycling, higher-efficiency standards for lighting and heating and cooling, and calculation methodologies.
Brandfon can measure the cost savings in energy reduction at his dealership. Although it’s harder to quantify, he believes green credentials also appeal to ecology-conscious customers at the franchise his father, Sasha Brandfon, founded in 1973.
“An individual looks at it and asks, ‘Who’s helping the environment?'” he said. “Customers like that.”
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