In Tennessee, Nashville is a hockey destination, home to the NHL’s Nashville Predators, and some Big Bear minor hockey tournaments. Outside of Nashville, though, ice arenas in the Volunteer State are few and far between. Knoxville has a privately-owned sports complex called Cool Sports, a dual-purpose year-round facility with a turf field on one side and an ice rink on the other. Ever since owner Basil Skelton opened the facility in 2001, he’s been trying to bring the energy costs down and solar is one of the methods he’s using.
“We’re trying to do things that are energy efficient and trying to save us money,” Skelton, a civil engineer, says. “Rinks are money pits, that’s true!”
Heat Exchangers – Then Solar
Skelton’s first step to cut those expenses was to find a way to reclaim heat.
“We put in heat exchangers to collect the heat — not only in our ice pit, but from the compressors for heating non-potable water as well as potable water,” he tells me. That was done to cut down their gas bills.
Then in 2014, faced with electricity costs that would often exceed $10,000 a month, Skelton installed a 49.5 kW solar photovoltaic system as part of a Tennessee Valley Authority alternative energy source initiative. All the electricity produced from that system is sold back to the grid at a rate of 14.5 cents per kWh which ends up being credited against Cool Sport’s power bill.
“Any day the sun shines, I’m making money!” Skelton tells me. “Even if it’s cloudy, I’m making some from indirect light.”
Once the 49.5 Kw system was up and running, Skelton did a power study of what their regular electricity usage would be. Working together with Trevor Casey from Green Earth Solar and the local utility, a 74.5 kW behind-the-meter-system was added to their roof, to supply power to the facility as it is generated.
“We found that 70 kW is their minimum usage,” says Casey. “Any extra power does go back into the grid, but that’s at a wholesale rate something like 2 or 3 cents.” Casey says with Federal tax credits and accelerated depreciation associated with solar installations, many of their customers see a payback on a solar energy system of anywhere from 3-5 years.
One Year Later
“We’ve been running them for one full year now,” Skelton tells me. “From a dollar standpoint, we’ve probably cut out our grid needs by about 35-40%.” That translates to a savings of 145,500 kWh per year, and a total cost savings from green initiative improvements of approximately $20,000 annually.
As for the rink, Skelton says the rink’s peak ice is full up.
“Our hockey is good, in fact, it’s improving,” he tells me. “The Predators have shown an interest in the surrounding towns and that’s helped. Our peak ice is full. I considered adding a second slab, in fact, I was ready to jump, but the numbers didn’t make sense.”
Cool Sports uses an electric Zamboni, which Skelton says will be replaced by another electric Zamboni when it needs replacing.
“We wouldn’t consider using anything else,” he says.