You wouldn’t expect a Granite City bar and grill to become a regional leader in alternative energy, but Eddie’s Lounge has done just that.
Owner Jim Dunn recently finished installing enough solar panels to generate all of the building’s electricity, wiping out most of his $15,000-a-year electric bill.
“Economically, it makes sense,” said Dunn, 69, who spent most of his life in Granite City but now lives along the Missouri River bluffs in North St. Louis.
Beyond utility savings, he plans to take advantage of federal tax breaks and state incentives resulting from the Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act of 2016.
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Dunn also has a second motive. He considers himself an environmentalist and wants to reduce his “carbon footprint” — the amount of greenhouse gases, specifically carbon dioxide, emitted due to the burning of fossil fuels.
“I’m not one of those people who thinks global warming is a Chinese hoax,” he said.
The building at 2900 Nameoki Road in Granite City has been housing bars since the 1930s. Dunn bought Eddie’s in 1981. He expanded the main floor in 1992 and added a second floor in 2000, bringing the total area to about 6,000 square feet.
Now the parking lot has four giant, pole-mounted canopies topped with solar panels, causing some people on the street to do double takes and others to call for information.
There’s also a side benefit for Eddie’s customers: Covered parking.
“The No. 1 question is, ‘What are those things?’” said Dunn’s daughter, Elizabeth Dauble, 41, of Granite City, a bartender and cook. “And I tell them, ‘They’re helicopter pads.’ But then I tell them what they really are, and they ask, ‘Do they power the whole building? How much is your power bill?’”
Neighborhood bar and grill
Customers describe Eddie’s as a “Cheers” type of place known for its chicken wings, tacos and peel-and-eat shrimp. It’s filled with wood paneling, Tiffany-style light fixtures and video-gaming machines along one wall.
On a recent weekday, a handful of friends were sitting at the rectangular bar, chatting and listening to the Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers version of “Islands in the Stream” on the jukebox.
“We have live music on the weekends,” Dunn said. “But from Sunday to Friday afternoon, it’s just a neighborhood bar and grill.”
Dunn is a wealth manager with Buckingham Strategic Wealth in St. Louis. His ex-wife, Debbie Becherer, manages Eddie’s with help from stepdaughter Ashley Dunn and Dauble.
Dunn spent $184,000 to install the first phase of his solar system at Eddie’s in 2011. Its 24-kilowatt capacity reduced his annual electric bill from about $15,000 to $11,800, a savings of $3,200. The building has gas heat, but it uses much more electricity for air conditioners, walk-in coolers and other equipment.
Dunn also took advantage of government incentives, including a 30-percent federal tax credit, depreciation deduction and $50,000 state rebate available at the time.
Dunn could have reduced installation costs by $20,000 by putting solar panels on the roof, but he opted for two pole-mounted canopies in the parking lot.
“I wanted them to be more visible so I could show people what could be done to offset their utility bills and reduce carbon to help with climate change,” he said.
Second round in solar arena
In December, Dunn spent $194,000 on Phase 2, installing another two canopies topped with solar panels in the Eddie’s parking lot. This added a 75-kilowatt system for a total 99-kilowatt capacity.
Essentially, Dunn spent $10,000 more for triple the capacity of the original 24-kilowatt system.
“The cost of products have gone down drastically,” said Melinda Kershaw, director of marketing for Day & Night Solar in Collinsville, which designed both systems. “The cost of labor has gone down, and the panels have increased in production.”
Dunn will again get a 30-percent federal tax credit (about $58,300) and a depreciation deduction, plus Illinois solar renewable energy credits that can be sold to utility companies ($17,800 a year for five years) and an Ameren smart inverter rebate ($18,700).
Dunn also expects most of his remaining $11,800 in annual electric costs to be eliminated.
“That’s money that goes straight to your bottom line,” Kershaw said. “Utilities are an expense that you can very rarely dispute. Your hands are tied.”
Dunn is counting on Phase 2 of the solar system to pay for itself in less than three years. But the main challenge for many businesses is coming up with the initial investment money for installation.
Public response to Eddie’s alternative-energy effort in Granite City — a blue-collar steel town established in the late 1800s — has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Dauble.
“I think it’s very smart for any person to put (solar panels) on their homes or businesses,” said customer Peggy Holmes, 67, of Granite City, a retired steelworker. “In the long run, you’re going to save money. By the time our grandchildren or great-grandchildren grow up, that’s all there’s going to be.”
“If I could afford it, I’d put it on my house,” added Holmes’ sister, Diane Muyleart, 61, of Fairmont City.
“We all would,” chimed in Lois Parsons, 67, of Granite City, a retired nurse who once worked at Eddie’s.