For Connecticut company, rooftop solar fits like a work glove

By Jeff Benzak

The Safety Zone is a Connecticut-based safety equipment manufacturer specializing in work gloves. Founded more than 30 years ago, The Safety Zone’s equipment is worn by commercial fishermen, janitors, doctors, and others.

The family-owned business operates a large, 128,000-square-foot production facility near Interstate 95. The rooftop is about as big as a football field, and the company’s owners thought installing solar panels on the roof might be a smart business decision.

With the help of a company called Independence Solar, they were right.

In February 2013, Independence Solar completed a 300-killowatt solar array on The Safety Zone’s black rooftop. According to Lon Seidman, one of the family owners of The Safety Zone, the solar panels soon proved their worth.

“Our new PV system allows us to hedge against high electricity costs, enhance our overall bottom line, and showcase our company’s commitment to environmental responsibility,” he said.

Independence Solar managed installation of the project, which consists of more than 1,200 solar panels. Combined, these panels provide all the commercial building’s electricity needs.

The system’s major components were sourced from American factories – the solar panels from Oregon, the racking system from Wisconsin and the inverter from Massachusetts.

Supporting domestic manufacturers is a point of pride for Independence Solar’s vice president, James Schwartz, a 36-year-old Boston resident who has an MBA from M.I.T. He said manufacturing companies – whether they make gloves or steel solar panel racking systems – are important to the country’s economic health, and he echoed Seidman’s business rationale for installing the system.

“The Safety Zone has remained a leader in its field for more than 30 years by making sound business decisions based on economic returns and long-term thinking,” said Schwartz, an E2 member. “The solar system aligns with both objectives.”

While The Safety Zone has been around since 1973, Independence Solar, a turnkey developer of commercial solar projects, was founded in 2007. So far, the company has managed the construction of $70 million in solar projects, including the 9-megawatt system atop the Gloucester Marine Terminal in New Jersey, which is the largest rooftop solar array in North America.

The Safety Zone’s system was one of the first solar projects in Connecticut to be completed under the state’s Zero Emissions Renewable Energy Credit program, or ZREC. With Independence Solar’s help, The Safety Zone took advantage of available state clean energy incentives and secured a 15-year contract with local utility Connecticut Light & Power.

UMass construction progress 2011

The project required about 30 local workers contracted from Pat Munger Construction Co., which has a growing renewable energy division. Schwartz said as the solar industry grows, more workers will be needed to manufacture and install panels. This grows our economy and also improves our environment, Schwartz said.

“Whether you’re making work gloves or brewing beer, rooftop solar makes good business sense for a lot of commercial businesses,” he said. “As a solar developer, we need workers who have the skills to bring this technology to scale nationally.

“The business aspects of the industry are good. Add to that solar’s climate change benefits, and that’s a good deal for all of us,” he said.

Although Independence Solar’s project portfolio is growing, The Safety Zone rooftop installation remains one of Schwartz’s favorites. Schwartz said before the job was complete, Independence Solar installed one more piece of the system: a solar charging station for the company’s electric cars. Fortunately, The Safety Zone also makes driving gloves.

Photo credits: Independence Solar