Black Dinah Chocolatiers – “Solar Helps Our Business to Grow”
“When you live on an island, it shapes your thinking,” says Steve Shaffer, one of the proprietors of Isle au Haut based Black Dinah Chocolatiers, “You learn that everything you carry in you must carry out. You have the think things through. And this characteristic has shaped everything about our business.”
It was quite a journey for he and his wife Kate from a co-op in California to a rugged island off the coast of Maine, where they now specialize in delectable chocolates made from fair-trade, organic, and local ingredients. While their business started with a great idea operated out of their home kitchen, the popularity of their creative chocolates soon outgrew their home-based set-up and it was time for the business to expand.
“We were eager to grow though we were also concerned about the long-term costs of running the new facility,” says Steve, “Our business’ single biggest liability was energy costs. On the island, electricity costs roughly twice what it does on the mainland, so offsetting our use with solar electricity made a lot of sense. Likewise, solar hot water would help keep our propane use under control.”
ReVision Energy helped Steve and Kate navigate the various incentives and rebates available for businesses as they designed their new commercial kitchen, including work on an ARRA grant that helped make the project more feasible. The new facility featured all new appliances – commercial dishwater, chest freezers, and convection oven – which, while as efficient as they get, still require lots of energy to work. We designed a 3.29 kw grid-tied solar electric system to provide about 2/3 of their electricity, and a 60-tube solar hot water collector array to preheat an on-demand propane water heater.
A Little Bit of Independence
“Our goal was not to get to net-zero, but to keep our energy bills around the same as when we were running the business out of our home,” Steve says. “So far, we seem to be on track. The solar electric production has exceeded our expectations and we’ve hardly needed to run the propane water heater.”
The solar energy systems give Steve confidence that his business is protected from rising costs of energy. It also plays right into the mission of their organization.
“When you spend so much time with food you develop a relationship with it. We love knowing the Peruvian co-op where we get our chocolate. We also love using local cream, herbs, flowers, fruits, and spices in our chocolates. So it only makes sense that we’d use local energy, too.”
About 70% of Black Dinah’s business is web-based, and you can shop their delights at www.blackdinahchocolatiers.com. Also stay tuned to their Facebook page which features news from their summertime cafe, events, photos, and more.
And… we couldn’t help it – below is a photo of their delicious local Farm Market chocolate collection (all with ingredients grown on an Hancock or Knox County farm):
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