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Wind towers and solar panels help power Jacksonville strip mall: With solar panels, they help power Southside mall.

Mar 11, 2010 - The Florida Times-Union

The twin 30-foot-high towers in front of a strip mall on the south side of Atlantic Boulevard near St. Johns Bluff are hard to miss -- especially when the wind is blowing and both structures are spinning and generating power.

The towers, called Windspires, and an array of solar collectors on the rooftops of two buildings at Discovery Plaza provide power to the shopping center's common areas, including parking lot lights, security lights, walkway lights and sign lighting. Tenants get their electricity for store lights and air conditioning through standard sources.

The Windspires also have generated conversation and foot traffic at the strip mall since they were installed in September 2009.

"A lot of people think it's advertising," said Lisa Taylor, manager of School Aids, a tenant in the shopping center.

"People are curious," said Brad Willis, manager at Dick's Wings & Grill, a restaurant tenant at Discovery Plaza. "I think it's good to have them out there."

The towers, which were built by a Nevada company and cost about $15,000 each, are making people aware of alternative energy, said Frank Erickson, president of Jacksonville-based Erickson Energy, which erected them.

"Once you tell them what's appropriate [for them], they're interested in lowering their electric bill," he said.

Erickson is in the process of establishing a showroom in Discovery Plaza, in which he can show solar panels and other alternative fuel types people can install at their homes and businesses. While the wind turbines are more visible, the more than 90 solar panels make up the majority of Discovery Plaza's 28-kilowatt electrical system, he said.

"It's a place where people can come and see it," he said. "When you think about it, not many people have seen a solar collector, let alone a windmill -- not here."

Erickson said he's installed about 20 systems in the last year, mostly rooftop solar collectors. And those systems can be expected to last for more than 40 years, he said.

But it's a thing of a future that's nearer than people think, he said.

"Solar is much more effective in Florida," he said. "The wind spires are very, very site-specific. They work in coastal areas and places where there is proximity to a big open area," Erickson said.

And Discovery Plaza, directly across Atlantic Boulevard from Craig Municipal Airport, fit the bill, he said.

Discover Plaza Manager Safa Mansouri said he's pleased with the turbines, and said he's busily retrofitting the remodeled 20-year-old strip mall with more energy efficient light bulbs and taking other steps to minimize power use.

Mansouri, who has four children, already was a believer in low-pollution alternatives to energy, he said.

"I want my children to have what I have. I want them to breathe fresh air, clean air. And this renewable energy is really fascinating."

Erickson said the Discovery Plaza alternative energy project has cost about $225,000, and estimated that it could take as long as four years for Mansouri to get that investment back in electrical savings, depreciation and government incentives.

Helping the cause of alternative fuels, Erickson said, is the fact that the energy goes into the utility grid instead of a battery. When the energy produced exceeds what the home or business uses, excess energy can be directed to the utility company for a credit, he said.

It's too soon to tell if Discovery Plaza will produce excess energy, he said, but its tenants report they're happy with what it has produced.

"It brings a lot of people here who haven't been here before," said Eko Yuniarto, owner of the Baskin Robbins franchise in Discovery Plaza. "I have five people a day ask about it.",

(904) 359-4609


Updated: 2016/06/30

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