Mike Levasseur didn’t mind standing in the heat as the hot sun shined down on Keenan Auto Body Aug. 19. That’s because the ultra violet rays were about to save him a lot of money.

    Mike Levasseur didn’t mind standing in the heat as the hot sun shined down on Keenan Auto Body Aug. 19. That’s because the ultra violet rays were about to save him a lot of money.
    Levasseur, president and chief operating officer of nine Keenan Auto Body shops through Delaware and Pennsylvania, made the switch to solar power at Middletown location.
    Wise Power Systems, based in Wilmington, installed 248 poly-crystalline pole- and ground-mounted solar panels, with 43 in the front of the building and 205 installed behind the facility. The system is the largest solar installation of its kind in Delaware.
    Levasseur said he’s seen many advances in technology and clean energy during his career in the auto repair business.
    “When I got into the business in 1976, it was a dirty business,” he said. “Fast forward to 33 years later and look at how far we’ve come. We’re just one company, but we can make a difference.”
    The panels are capable of generating 75 kilowatt-hours per year, which will provide 70 to 110 percent of the energy needed to run the 16,000-square-foot Keenan facility.
    The panels will provide 90-120 Renewable Energy Credits per year, which will then be sold back to the power company at a current value of $200 each.
    Craig Camacho, Keenan marketing director, said it’s a huge statement for an auto body shop to switch to solar power.
    “There are guys with serious air tools, frame machines, paint booths. They need a lot of square inches of power,” he said. “This is quite the endeavor for a body shop to do this. I think its only a matter of time before other shops and other companies do this.”
    Camacho said even when the sun isn’t shining, the panels can still power the shop.
    “The cool thing is these panels sustain light,” he said. “Even if you have a week or dreary weather when there’s no sun, it takes the UV rays and sucks it in so it’s just constantly providing power.”
    The panels and 20-year warranty for the system cost $500,000.
    “The return on the investment is about five years,” Levasseur said.
    Sen. Carper (D-Delaware), who flipped a switch behind the shop to officially activate the system, said about $250,000 of its cost will be refunded by the state and 30 percent will be refunded federally.
    He said the great thing about the solar system is that it reduces the bad emissions that Keenan’s shop put into the air and the installation of solar panels creates jobs.
    “Not only are we putting good people to work, we’re making great use of a natural resource, which we don’t do enough,” Carper said. “The sun puts out enough energy in one hour to produce enough energy to meet our energy needs for one year.”
    Darius Brown of U.S. Sen. Ted Kauffman’s office said he described the endeavor with three words – solar, clean and green.
    “[People said] there’s no way solar, clean and green has anything to do with an auto body shop,” he said.
    Colin O’Mara, secretary for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said Keenan is now leading by example.
    He said every car that passes the shop on Summit Bridge Road will see the solar panels, which could lead to more installations of such systems.
    “This is a statement right here. You just can’t match that,” he said.
    O’Mara said the switch wouldn’t have been possible without state and federal incentives, and he hopes to see more funding programs for clean energy in the future.
    “The new congress is slowly allowing these programs to go forward,” he said. “This will allow us to achieve the future we all know is possible.”
    Bill Rawheiser, owner of Wise Power Systems said the sun produces DC power and the panels capture that power, then transfer that power to convert it to AC power for electricity.
    “There is no difference,” he said. “[Keenan] is now able to take total control on any additional rise in utility rates. They’re going to be able to lock in 80 percent of their electrical costs for the next 30 years.”
    Frank Yankwitt of Wise Power Systems, said the company started four years ago with just a few installations and three employees. Now there are 15 employees and endless installation opportunities. 
    “We’ll be doing about 40 to 50 systems this year,” he said. “It’s impressive the amount of people taking the jump to solar power.”
    In addition to the solar panels, Keenan also replaced its solvent-based paints with DuPont Cromax Pro, a water-born paint system.
    Levasseur said mandates are in the works to require the use of such paints and Keenan plans to have all nine of its shops switch by the end of the year.
    “We’re just going to get ahead of the game and get them all switched over now,” he said.