By Richard Freedman, Vallejo Times-Herald

While the cars may rely on fossil fuels and electric power, Toyota Vallejo believes it can wave the victory flag since installing roof-top solar panels and LED parking lot lights.

“There’s no down side,” said Toyota’s Jeff Wilson. “It reduces energy costs in the future and didn’t require any more room. It was a slam dunk for us.”

The solar construction by coolearth out of Pleasanton started at the end of November and was operating right before the New Year. The LED lights retrofit was finished mid-February.

So far, so good, said Wilson and Toyota general manager Dave Johnston, believing it’s a good environmental story as well as eventual cost-saving for the dealership.

“It’s a feel-good story for Vallejo,” said Johnston, joining Wilson, the city’s senior economic development analyst Annette Taylor, and coolearth CEO Rob Lamkin on Thursday to discuss the project.

The business at 201 Auto Mall Parkway is coolearth’s first auto dealer client and one of its most significant ventures, Lamkin said.

“We do solar projects all over the Bay Area and found working with the city of Vallejo to be great,” Lamkin said. “They were supportive and helpful and it was a quick process from the permit issued to the final inspection.”

Lamkin figured half of the roughly 30,000-square-foot building is solar panelled.

“It’s a great building and a good location,” he said. “It’s really ideal for solar.”

The CEO added that the extensive project should pay for itself between four and five years, less than it typically takes for a residential solar project to be cost effective.

The solar system at Toyota Vallejo creates 370,000 kilowatt hours a year, said Lamkin.

“And the energy bill that’s $120,000 a year will go to zero dollars a year,” he added.

“The economics are very good and you’re doing something good for the planet,” said Lamkin, calling 2015 a “pretty good solar year so far.”

Taylor said she hopes the Toyota project motivates other Vallejo businesses to consider going solar. Johnston said he’s already been contacted by another Vallejo car dealer who is pondering the energy switch.

Johnston said the LED lights in the parking light are also a big money-saver, using 70 percent less energy than bulbs that kept having to be replaced. It also generates from 15 to 18 percent more lumens, Johnston said.

“The old technology lights were consistently burning out,” Johnston said. “If you didn’t replace some, there would be a lot of dark spots on the lot. Since the switch-over, there have been no issues of vandalism. And the company that monitors the cameras at night says the visibility is much better.”

The “better, clearer lights” also make the cars look their actual color, Johnston said.

“It’s a more comfortable atmosphere,” he said.

The energy monitor installed in the customer lounge documents energy created on a daily, weekly and monthly basis and displays a three-day weather forecast.

For every handful of customers watching the flat screen TV, as many or more will watch the energy monitor, Johnston said, believing he and Wilson made the right solar choice with coolearth, which uses only USA-made materials.

“Jeff and I interviewed three companies and felt comfortable with Rob and went with our gut,” Johnston said. “It’s been a great business relationship.”

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