By DENNIS SEID / Daily Journal

ARCADIA, Wis.– Ashley Furniture Industries) has committed to a multi-phase effort to reduce the company’s energy footprint. Ashley, the world’s largest furniture manufacturer, has selected 10 of its largest U.S. facilities to receive solar installations this year as part of the first phase of the initiative. Construction on the first solar array in Romeoville, Illinois, began recently.

Among the facilities will be the company’s Ecru, Mississippi plant, which is the largest upholstered furniture manufacturing plant in the world. Some 2,000 employees work on the 20-acre campus.

Across the 10 advanced manufacturing and distribution and fulfillment facilities identified, electrical energy consumption exceeds 100 million kWh (kilowatt hours) annually. Phase one of the project will be a $29 million investment for Ashley. By installing solar, the company expects to offset its electrical energy needs by 35% using clean energy from the sun.

“We need a lot of energy to manufacture our products and it only makes sense to use renewable sources,” said Ron Wanek, Ashley founder and chairman. “This is a long-term investment, not only for Ashley, but for our environment. We are taking proactive steps and hope to see others in our industry join us.”

Ashley anticipates a cost savings of more than $5 million in the first year, with potential for even greater annual savings as energy prices continue to increase over time.

“Saving on energy costs will allow us to further invest in our employees and facilities, pass cost savings on to our customers, and give back to the community. These solar panels are just one more example of Ashley’s sustainability in the global marketplace and in our local communities,” said Todd Wanek, Ashley’s President and CEO.

The Romeoville location, a 454,525-square-foot retail distribution center, will utilize 2,640 roof- mounted solar panels and 10 inverters for a total system capacity of 726 kWdc. The solar energy produced from this site alone will exceed 856,700 kWh per year, which is equal to the amount of power consumed by 72 average American households.

Ashley has partnered with SunPeak, a leading developer in the solar industry, to design and install its solar systems. SunPeak has worked with other large, national brands including Tyson Foods and American Family Insurance.

“We did our due diligence when selecting a solar provider. We interviewed dozens of companies nationally and felt strongly that SunPeak was best suited to perform the scope of this work, to our quality standards, in a timely manner,” said Todd Wanek. “An unexpected benefit was being able to partner with another Wisconsin-based company to create greater economic impact in the state where it all started.”

“We are extremely proud to partner with Ashley. The impact of this project portfolio is significant. For each location identified, we have designed an extremely efficient, roof-mounted solar system,” said Chad Sorenson, President, SunPeak. “In total, these systems will generate more than one trillion kilowatt hours of clean energy over the next thirty years. That’s enough energy to power 3,000 homes for the next three decades.”

Ashley’s solar energy initiative will complement their world-class advanced manufacturing facilities. Throughout the company’s advanced manufacturing and warehousing operations, solar energy will be utilized to charge IoT (internet of things) systems, automation and robotics, and battery-powered industrial vehicles.

Other Ashley solar project sites include three locations in California as well as Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Ashley’s advanced manufacturing headquarters in Arcadia, Wisconsin. All projects in this first phase are expected to be completed by the first quarter of 2020.