Small Business Week Spotlight: Fred Thomas Resort

The clean energy industry is creating new businesses from scratch every day in sectors like solar energy and energy efficiency, accelerating economic growth and creating jobs nationwide. Just as important, however, is how clean energy is enabling existing small businesses to grow in new ways. As we salute hardworking entrepreneurs as part of National Small Business Week, let’s first bring our attention to one of those long-standing small businesses that has found new vitality through investing in clean energy.

Fred Thomas Resort lies in the wooded hills of Northwest Wisconsin, right off the banks of Big Lake Chetac. The resort, named for its founder, opened up in 1925. Now in the 94th year of operation, Fred Thomas Resort is gearing up for its summer residents.

“Our motto is ‘Perpetually New’ — and solar and energy efficiency fit right in with that philosophy,” says manager and proprietor Dan Herscher.

Energy efficiency has long been a concern for Fred Thomas Resort’s owners. When Dan’s father ran the resort, he took special care to optimize the energy usage in daily operations. Dan shared his father’s interest, and after taking over, he began researching renewable energy options for the business.

The resort’s solar array came online in 2015. The grid-tied 14.767 kW solar photovoltaic array generates about 30 percent of the resort’s electricity, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by roughly 18,000 pounds every year. Dan is even able to sell back excess solar energy to the utility at retail rate.

After installing the solar array, Dan utilized “Focus on Energy,” a statewide program created by Wisconsin utilities. Under Focus on Energy’s Business Incentive Program, the resort earned monetary incentives for installing their solar array, allowing them to recoup the cost of installation at a faster rate.

Now the solar array saves their business thousands of dollars in electricity bills every year.

And their efforts didn’t stop there. Since the solar array, more and more of the resort’s operations have been switched over to clean energy sources. Dan upgraded to electric heating in the cabins, swapped old equipment with electronic replacements, and even installed a charger for electric vehicles on the premises.

Since making these improvements, Dan has noticed the difference. The maintenance cost is much lower for electric equipment, and residents are no longer bothered by loud noises from gas-powered tools and machinery. The solar array has proved to be a good marketing tool as well. Guests are enthusiastic about the resort’s energy concerns.

Now that clean energy is more affordable, businesses of all sizes can take advantage of the benefits.

When asked why more businesses don’t take the same leap as Fred Thomas Resort, Dan answers that he doesn’t think business owners realize how quickly the cost of renewables and energy efficiency has fallen in the last few years. He is able to reinvest in the resort and the savings help support his payroll.

It’s great to see small business owners taking the initiative to implement clean energy into their business plan. When you take a look at the falling cost of clean energy generators like solar, and the cost savings and marketing to energy-conscious consumers, it’s a win for both business owners and those who benefit from cheaper, cleaner energy sources.

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