Penns Valley

Penns Valley business goes solar with sprawling panel installation

Burkholder’s Country Market, located in a community of about 300 people, is home to the largest privately owned solar carport in Pennsylvania, according to owner Russ Burkholder.

The Spring Mills-based store began researching solar panels about four years ago, but did not follow through then because the return on investment was not quick enough and the business did not want to have money tied up for too long, Burkholder said.

That changed in November after the state offered $30 million in grants through a solar energy program. The company applied and received about $710,000, which helped cover the eventual $1.8 million cost, Burkholder said.

Construction recently finished on the panels, which are perched above the store’s parking area off state Route 45. The Penns Valley business is waiting on final permits to begin running the set-up.

“Our electric costs are obviously one of our larger operating expenses — short of payroll — and it’s one of those expenses that is consistent regardless of how profitable we are,” Burkholder said. “(If) sales go up and down, you can adjust other costs, such as labor and things like that, but your electric needs are always the same. We’re always looking for ways to curve that cost and help make some savings there.”

The three arrays — comprising 1,242 panels — are 300 feet long by 40 feet wide and will offset about 70% of the store’s electricity usage. There are two free electric car-charging stations, as well, Burkholder said.

Solar panels have been installed in the parking lot at Burkholder’s Country Market off Route 45 in Spring Mills. Abby Drey

The business began in Millheim and moved to its current location — 107 Market Drive — in 1992. Eight years later, it doubled in size. Within the past five years, the business expanded its kitchen and sit-down areas, Burkholder said.

Former owner Jesse Burkholder sold the business in 2013 to his son, Russ, who said he “never in a million years” would have thought the business would go where it has.

“In today’s business world, you have to evolve,” Burkholder said. “We can’t run the business the same way we did 20 years ago. This is a way to improve our financial stability and it’s a great bone for our customers. It’s terrific to park under.”

A “Flip the Switch” event is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 8 at the store. Free food, including barbecued chicken and drinks, should be available.

Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.