Case Studies Alexander Lumber of Owatonna, MN

Alexander Lumber: 136-year-old business finds renewable tech is a perfect fit

When Alexander Lumber opened its Owatonna lumberyard in 1883, solar power wasn’t even a possibility—hydropower was the only known renewable energy source, and the first scientific paper linking a rise in carbon dioxide to atmospheric warming wouldn’t be written for more than a decade. Now, its prominent downtown building sports the largest solar array in Owatonna Public Utility territory, with the system expected to offset approximately half the energy needs of the company’s main retail and office building. 

Alexander Lumber isn’t a place for radical changes. It’s still in its original location, and president Josh Meillier is the second generation of Meilliers to own the company, his father having bought it from the third generation of Alexanders. But old as it is, the company has always been forward-thinking. When telephone lines came to Owatonna, it was one of the first businesses to install a phone: “Our phone number was 61,” notes the company website. And lumber itself is a renewable resource when properly managed. For Josh Meillier, evolving with the times meant taking a look at how solar could serve his business’s interests. 

“I have a personal interest in alternative energy,” said Meillier, “and a friend who made the switch to solar told me the payoff was relatively short and called the decision a ‘no-brainer.’ Now that I’ve installed it, I totally agree. I figure my payoff is around five years and the system will lower my utility bill by approx. $6000/year for decades.” 

Meillier looked at multiple installers, but ultimately chose All Energy Solar. “I was impressed with their knowledge of the commercial side of the project: tax credits, depreciation, payoff, and the PACE program,” he said, referring to the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing program for solar and energy efficiency projects. 

“All Energy Solar helped us with the PACE process, not that I couldn’t have gotten a loan from my own bank,” said Meillier, whose business is a bit younger than Wells Fargo but a bit older than both TCF and Bank of America. “Between that and the tax credits to get started, plus other tax incentives in regards to depreciation later, from a business standpoint the system practically pays for itself.” 

“I felt we should install a system like this while we were still given incentives to do so. I don’t believe those incentives will last forever. Someday it might just be a requirement,” he noted.

He is also conscious of what his choice says about his industry to those outside it—and those within. “The lumber industry has been hit hard by people who feel that since deforestation is harming the environment, anyone selling lumber is doing the same,” Meillier said. “If more people within my industry consider alternative energy sources, we can show that we’re willing to step into the 21st century and do our part to help save the environment. Demand for some of the changes advanced by policies like the Green New Deal will probably never go away. The switch to clean energy is one of them. I felt it was important that we were at the forefront.”

Project Specifications

  • System Size: 43.5 kW
  • Panels: 132
  • Panel Type: JA Solar 330W
  • Inverter Type: SolarEdge
  • kWh Generated Annually: approximately 55,000 kWh in Year 1
  • CO2 Avoided Annually: >36 Metric Tons


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