Maryland political and community leaders gathered last week in Gaithersburg to celebrate the official opening of Fitzgerald Auto Mall’s new solar-powered parking structure, the largest solar canopy on the property of an auto dealer east of the Mississippi River.
The structure, which features 2,475 solar panels covering more than an acre of space on the top of the five-level garage, will provide Fitzgerald with more than 80 percent of its annual power. Fitzgerald Auto Mall estimates that the system will save approximately 1.7 million pounds of carbon emissions over the 25-year lifespan of the solar panels.
“The solar canopy on the parking garage just made sense for us,” said Jack Fitzgerald, owner of Fitzgerald Auto Mall. “Customers’ cars and inventory are shaded while the panels generate energy on site. It’s a win-win that aligns perfectly with our Environmental Management System.”
Dr. Mary Beth Tung, the Director of the Maryland Energy Administration, which offers lucrative tax credits and financial assistance to dealerships that wish to install similar panels on new structures, said the state government provided more than $200,000 in incentives for this structure, which will help make it a net money-maker for the dealership within a decade.
“There are certainly upfront costs to building a structure like this, but that’s where we at the state level come in and try to help,” Tung said. “These grants lower the cost of entry, and then you get the savings on the back end. Plus, there’s lots of benefits to the dealers; you get vehicle coverage, we help promote EV charging infrastructure, and of course, we generate power.”
Mike Ryan, the Vice President of Operations at Columbia-based Aurora Energy, which oversaw the development and installation of the solar panels in conjunction with Porter Construction, said there are vast benefits to dealers installing projects like this.
“Bottom line, it reduces the cost of operating the business in the long term,” Ryan said. “With the incentives in place, and the reduction in energy costs, along with the inventory protection you get from having your vehicles housed under a covered structure, you’re talking about a four-to-seven year timeframe in which you start making money off this project.”
During the construction of the garage, which lasted around a year, Fitzgerald Auto Mall remained open for business. Rob Smith, the dealership’s vice president, said that there were challenges involved with the logistics of balancing a major construction project with ongoing sales operations, but that it ultimately was manageable and will pay off in the long run.
“The payback of this project is so great,” Smith said. “And while it was ongoing, in some cases we actually sold more cars than normal because we were working out of a more condensed working space for a little while, and that really fostered collaboration among our employees.
In addition to Tung, who is an appointee of Gov. Larry Hogan (R), government leaders in attendance included state Sens. Nancy King (D-Montgomery Village) and Cheryl Kagan (D-Rockville), Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo (D-Boyds) and House Environment and Transportation Committee Chair Kumar Barve (D-Rockville). District directors from the offices of U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) and U.S. Rep. David Trone (D) were also on hand for the event, as was Gaithersburg mayor Judd Ashman (D).
Del. Barve, who works as an accountant for his full-time job, said that solar panel installation is good for both the environment and for dealerships’ bottom lines. He said he hopes that the Fitzgerald ribbon cutting is the first of many similar events he’ll get to attend in the near future.
“It’s a change in philosophy, but I see this as being good for the dealers’ balance sheet,” Barve said. “I’d tell other dealers to just have your accountant run the numbers, and if it makes sense, do it.”Download Bulletin PDF