By Bill Kirk
LAWRENCE — With 1,092 solar panels on the roof generating 273,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, Richard Bass of the Cardinal Shoe Corp. likes to brag that he now has "the largest solar powered ballet shoe factory on the planet."
Of course, he admits, it may be the only solar-powered ballet shoe factory in the world.
Over the last several weeks, an electrical contractor working for Dynamic Solar of Wayne, Pa., has been placing the panels on the roof of the two-story mill building overlooking Pemberton Park on North Canal Street.
Bass said that when the project is done, sometime in the next few weeks, it will provide all the power needs for his ballet shoe manufacturing plant as well as the 30 tenants that make up the rest of the 160,000-square-foot building that he bought with his father, Harry Bass, in 1979.
"It will pay for itself in four years," said Richard Bass, standing on the roof of the building Thursday as the sun beat down on the shiny, new panels. He said a combination of factors made the project financially feasible: Dynamic Solar is leasing the space on his roof in exchange for discounted electric rates. Dynamic Solar, meanwhile, has made use of federal tax credits as well as Massachusetts' renewable energy credits program.
The result will be that the electricity bills for Bass' building will be cut in half.
Without getting into specifics, he said it would save "tens of thousands of dollars." As he saves money, he won't have to charge his tenants high electricity bills, either.
David Deutsch, vice president of business development and project finance for Dynamic Solar, explained that the Solar Renewable Energy Credits, or SREC program, run by the state of Massachusetts is highly advantageous to solar installers and array operators.
The way it works, he said, is that for every 1,000 kilowatt hours of energy created by the solar array, his company will earn an SREC. Each SREC can be bought and sold on the open market, and currently they are worth about $500 each.
With the solar array on the roof of the Cardinal Shoe Co. generating 273,000 kilowatt hours of energy, that 273 SRECs, Deutsch said. In today's market, that's worth almost $137,000 worth of SRECs.
Deutsch said the solar array installation on Cardinal Shoe was fairly typical, except for a layer of loose beach-stone used to keep the rubber roof from blowing away in the wind. To remove the stones, he said, an enormous, very powerful vacuum was used.
The other unusual thing about the project, according to Bass, was that originally plans called for the panels to cover the entire roof. But installers realized that the smokestack for the building created enough of a shadow on one half of the roof for most of the day that it would have reduced the amount of electricity produced by the panels.
The installation of the panels is just the latest in a long line of improvements Bass has made to the building since his family purchased it in 1979.
Bass, his father and brother founded Cardinal Shoe in 1962 in the Everett Mill in Lawrence. In 1980, they moved the company to a textile mill building on North Canal Street, renaming it Cardinal Shoe. They bought and renovated the structure with the help of industrial revenue bond financing, according to a 2005 story in The Eagle-Tribune.
The company's product line evolved from general women's shoes into special-occasion footwear. At its peak employment in the mid 1980s, 375 people were on the Cardinal payroll, turning out 7,000 pairs of shoes a day, or around 1.2 million pair a year.
Plus, the company used most of the building, Bass said.
When his suppliers went out of business, Bass realized he needed to move into a different line of business, and began manufacturing ballet shoes under the name of Gaynor Minden.
Today, the company uses just part of the second floor of the building, where some 35 employees crank out around 100,000 ballet shoes a year. A profitable business, his product is shipped to 93 countries and among his clients are the Bolshoi Ballet, the Royal Ballet and the Kirov Ballet.
One of the finest dancers in the world, Alina Cojocaru of the Royal Ballet, wears shoes made in Lawrence. A picture of her, on the cover of Pointe magazine and wearing Gaynor Minden shoes, adorns walls and machinery throughout the manufacturing floor.
Bass explained that dancers like the shoes because they last a long time and are customized to their feet.
Plus, he said, "we deliver on a just-in-time basis. If we get an order on a Monday, we'll have it out by a Tuesday."
Now, in addition to being able to say the shoes are "Made in the USA," they can also say, "Made using solar power."
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