Dan Mankins has been a part of Premier Structures, Incorporated since 2003, when the founders, Will and Helen Evans were both actively involved. Mr. Evans passed away in 2006, at which point Miss Helen asked Dan to manage PSI, and in 2012 he purchased the business. They are in their 31st year, and things are going well. However, they recently plunged into a project that they never expected – being a part of solar energy making a comeback and coming of age.
I was actually delivering papers to PSI when I saw a building permit displayed in the window, indicating that they were in the middle of a solar-panel project. Curious, I talked with Dan, and he decided it was time to tell PSI’s “Solar Story.” By way of background, solar energy has been a bit “iffy” since it was first introduced on a large scale in the mid-‘80s. The panels were not sturdy, the output was not that great, and enthusiasm for the concept declined. Dan actually lives in a subdivision in Elkmont that was originally designed to be solar powered, and at present, not one house has any functional type of solar unit producing energy. Then solar became somewhat part of a political football, as did reduction in power consumption in general. The whole building industry had to make adjustments in the way they insulated walls, as well as the kind of lighting they used. They have gotten good at LED lighting installation and usage, and are also grateful that those ugly squiggly bulbs are a thing of the past.
Nevertheless, Dan will be the first to tell you that he was not at all interested in hearing the sales presentations of vendors who specialized in solar energy. “I had a pretty high level of sales resistance, but customers started asking about it and for it, and I knew I had to do research.” He discovered that much had changed since the ‘80s and ‘90s, and that solar was indeed coming into its own. However, it took sitting down with a man who worked for someone Dan trusted, and having the opportunity to ask the toughest questions he could, that caused Dan to change his mind. He discovered that today’s solar panels are thicker, better, and now have a 25-year warranty. In addition, there were all kinds of grants available from the TVA. Dan also mentioned that the older he gets, the more the idea of being “energy independent” appeals to him as a business owner. He also mentioned that when he builds his next home for his family, it will include solar energy.
Dan also became aware of the fact that municipalities all across the country were taking a new look at solar and were implementing it into their city planning. He also knew that in Elkmont, there is a thriving solar farm on Sandlin Road generating a considerable amount of power and selling it back to the grid. He decided to take the plunge and construct a solar installation in the shed on the back part of the PSI property. Dan had a specific goal in mind, and that was to eliminate PSI’s utility bill, which annually is six thousand dollars. They are on track to not only accomplish that goal, but the project will pay for itself in seven years.
Dan says he has become a “raving fan,” and he’s not alone. Cinemagic Theatre in Athens is installing some panels. He says, “It’s becoming collaborative, and there are projects also in Pulaski and Huntsville.” Dan also mentioned that the light poles all along Memorial Parkway are solar. The same is the case with the light poles at Wal-Mart. He says “It’s the wave of the future.” He also knows that there are areas where the designs need some work, but is confident that they will continue to improve as well as be more versatile, and more types of projects will be able to be solar based.
With regard to the grants, Dan said he’s seen a certain pattern, and he wants to pass this information on to the consumer. Back a few years ago, when solar was making a comeback, grants were plentiful and TVA was a little looser with the purse strings. The grants could be drying up, though, so if the possibility of “going solar” is something you have considered either for a residential or commercial solar project, now is the time to come to PSI and have a serious sit-down with Dan to look at your options. He and his team will be more than happy to give you the help that only comes from experience.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner