The view from atop the sixth floor of the Baumgartner building in Downtown DeLand is spectacular: The multicolored roofs of favorite shops and eateries are dotted with architectural details not visible from the ground. People and cars pass by along the streets 80 feet below, and the scene is framed by a lush green ring of treetops.
Now there’s something else to look at from this bird’s-eye vantage. The multilevel roofs of the Baumgartner complex are covered with 246 SunPower solar panels in an 80.4-kilowatt system that’s designed to grab the sunshine and turn it into electricity for use by more than 40 businesses operating below.
It’s Downtown DeLand’s second big commercial solar-power-system installation and, according to Bill Gallagher, owner of Solar-Fit, may now be the largest privately owned solar array in Volusia County.
Solar-Fit has done 19,000 solar installations, but because there’s no official tracking system for private arrays, he can’t know for sure how the Baumgartner system ranks.
Solar-Fit also installed a 60-kilowatt system at the Ball Fabrics manufacturing plant on Arizona Avenue in DeLand, which came online in late 2018.
The honor of the largest private system in the county originally belonged to Conrad Realty Co.’s 187-panel, 50-kilowatt system that came online in 2016 above New York Avenue less than a block from the Baumgartner system.
For building owners Roger Baumgartner and his son, Troy Baumgartner, spending about $600,000 for the solar system and a new membrane roof was a no-brainer.
“We think it’s a good investment,” Troy Baumgartner said. “It pays itself back in a short period, compared to its life span.”
He’s looking at a payback of about eight years.
It also feels good, Troy Baumgartner and his dad said, to be helping to lessen the nation’s dependence on nonrenewable energy sources like coal and oil.
Over the effective life span of the system, which is projected to be 40 years, the Baumgartners and their business tenants should save an estimated $1.3 million in electricity costs, Gallagher said, when anticipated utility-rate hikes and the 30-percent tax credit are factored in.
It made financial sense, especially, the Baumgartners said, because they were already faced with replacing their 14,477 square feet of roofs, which were a patchwork of old roofing and repairs.
The 1925 building is covered now with a ventilated membrane system installed by R&R Industries of Holly Hill. It will provide additional energy savings as well as relief from the headaches of repairing leaks after every windy storm.
It wasn’t easy to find contractors willing to take on the six-story-high work, Baumgartner Co. general manager Kim Mallory said. Several roofing contractors said no, she said, after learning about the height.
It was challenging for the solar contractor, too.
“This is the highest solar installation we have done, and I believe the highest in the county,” Gallagher said.
Materials for the work were lifted to the rooftops by a 100-ton crane positioned in the parking lot three doors to the east.
“This was a challenge logistically, but everything went as smooth as silk,” Gallagher said. “The only real issue was dealing with the afternoon rains that occur during the summer.”
Installation began Aug. 1 and was completed in mid-September. The system came online about six weeks ago, once Duke Energy completed the changeout of six power meters with the type of meters necessary to track how much power the Baumgartner system is feeding back into the electrical grid.
Like many commercial installations, the Baumgartner system feeds electricity back to the grid rather than storing it in batteries. Battery backups are becoming more common, however, for residential solar systems, Gallagher said, meaning homeowners can still have electricity when the power goes out.
The Baumgartner Co. has been located in the historic building at the intersection of Woodland Boulevard and New York Avenue since going into partnership in 1987 with Realtor Clyde C. Bennett Jr.
Bennett, along with attorney Dana Fogle and Clyde C. Bennett Sr., had modernized the tall former bank building a few years earlier, adding necessary elevators and handicap-accessible restrooms by building an adjoining six-story tower and blending in one-story buildings to the north to form a sort of mini-mall.
The Baumgartner and Bennett commercial real estate firm originally moved to the sixth floor of the tall building because there were no other tenants, Roger Baumgartner said with a laugh.
Today, the building is nearly full, with 46 business tenants in addition to The Baumgartner Co. The real estate company has grown, as well, over the years.
Clyde Bennett is still living, at 102 years old, in Michigan. When he retired and Roger and his son took over, the two Baumgartners and a secretary comprised the whole team. Now, the newly sun-powered company has 11 employees.