Self-storage owners have long squeezed profit from their properties. They sell boxes and rent moving trucks. They offer climate-controlled storage at a premium, and they use undeveloped land to store boats and other recreational vehicles unfit for serene subdivision cul-de-sacs.
Kurt Regensburger, the president of Security Storage, is squeezing cents from the sun.
At his facility on Tryon Road in Raleigh, three poles supporting 48 photovoltaic solar panels rise behind a chain-link fence on a gravel parking lot.
The panels suck the sun's rays and send watts back into Progress Energy's power grid. The utility buys the power from Regensburger – a transaction that, with the help of subsidies, almost covers his annual energy expenses.
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The system, which also is designed to reduce carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and mercury emissions, is the first storage facility of its kind in the state, and one Regensburger hopes to duplicate.
“We've got several goals,” he said. “One obviously is to justify the investment. Another is to promote green and alternative energy. And we'd like to see if we can attract like-minded people to our storage.”
Retailers, developers and manufacturers have been greening up in recent years to save money on operations and lure eco-conscious customers.
Green self-storage is a recent, and seemingly ironic, evolution: a message of conservation from a business based on the overstuffed attics of American consumption.
Beyond that, there's a story of profitability in the face of rising costs and competition.
“The big thing with self-storage is always: Where is the other revenue that you can get? How can you milk it?” said Bob Hukill, treasurer of the N.C. Self-Storage Association.
Profitability on self-storage solar power is nearly impossible without subsidies, Hukill added. That's why he doesn't expect the trend to spread beyond those few owners who have a keen interest in renewable energy – and are willing to deal with the paperwork to earn tax breaks.
Regensburger, who holds an environmental science degree, is among the few. He and his partners – his wife, Anna, her brother Mike Chancellor and advisers from N.C. State University – are taking advantage of state and federal policies that make alternative energy financially feasible.
Tax credits will cover half of their $100,000 investment in the panels.
The energy sales are subsidized by N.C. GreenPower, a Raleigh nonprofit created in response to a request by the General Assembly to promote renewable energy.
With the credits and subsidies, Regensburger expects the panels to pay for themselves in about seven years. He hopes to expand the practice to the six other Triangle facilities he owns.