HANOVER — With the flip of a switch, Jeff and John Morrill took their auto showroom essentially off the grid on Wednesday, becoming the owners of what they say is the world’s first Subaru showroom to be powered largely by the sun.
The brothers, who live next door to each other in Milton, have been making good on a lifelong shared commitment to the Earth that they said includes, among other things, reducing the environmental impact of their dealership.
Wednesday, that commitment zeroed in on Planet Subaru and its new 78,540-watt rooftop solar plant. But the yearning to make a difference goes back to 1998, when the Morrills bought a bankrupt car operation in Norwell, then moved it in 2002 into a recycled building on Route 53 in Hanover.
“It’s estimated that transportation alone is responsible for 25 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, but buildings account for 43 percent,’’ Jeff Morrill said. “And while this family business can’t reinvent the internal combustion engine, we can make a big difference in our facility.”
US Representative William Keating, whose district includes a number of communities south of Boston and the Cape and islands, and state Representative Rhonda Nyman, of Hanover, were on hand to flip the switch to power up the solar plant. A small group of employees and guests burst into applause as the lights came on.
The plant will generate 88,752 kilowatt hours annually, equivalent to what is needed to power approximately eight average American homes and slightly less than half of the approximately 200,000 kilowatt hours consumed by the entire dealership annually.
“Clearly, Planet Subaru cares about planet Earth,’’ Keating said, in brief remarks. “Each of us should look at what we can do to make this planet a cleaner place to live.”
Charles Cyrill, the director of public relations for the National Automobile Dealers Association, said new car dealers like the Morrills are leading a green revolution.
“Dealers across the country are making their dealerships more eco-friendly through recycling, wind power, cutting-edge lighting, and low-maintenance landscaping,’’ Cyrill said.
He said dealers are also catching on to the benefits of going green — such as saving money and drawing increasingly green-minded customers while eliminating tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
“Some dealerships employ cutting-edge heating and cooling methods and efficient lighting; others are brand-new, state-of-the-art, carbon-neutral facilities using alternative energies like wind and solar,’’ he said.
At Planet Subaru, the 374 solar panels occupy about a quarter-acre of its rooftop area and run lights, computers, monitors, phones, fax machines, photocopiers, refrigerators, coffee makers, water coolers, vending machines, and everything else in the showroom. The rest of the dealership is powered by National Grid. Under its new setup, if the solar array produces more power than the dealership requires at a particular time, the electric meter would run backward and National Grid would buy the electricity, Jeff Morrill said.
The entire system has a price tag of $500,000, but a 30 percent federal tax credit — part of the American Investment and Recovery Act of 2009 — has brought the total down to about $350,000, he said. He said he and his brother expect to be able to break even on their investment in about eight years.
As an effort to support local business, Planet Subaru used only local contractors, from Rockland-based Lighthouse Electrical, a union contractor, which was hired to install the system, to Boston-based Satcom, which manufactured the inverter for the solar panels, which were also made in Massachusetts.
Planet Subaru was one of three finalists chosen in 2007 by the National Automobile Dealers Association and USA Today in an annual innovative dealership awards contest. It also received one of eight Energy Star Small Business Awards from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Morrills said.
Hanover selectmen have been working with Town Manager Troy Clarkson on a list of sustainable goals for the coming year. At the top of the list is finding ways to boost economic development in the town by bringing vital businesses to the Route 53 corridor. Representing her board at Wednesday’s event, Selectwoman Susan Setterland said the launching of Planet Subaru’s solar field was an exciting and great moment for Hanover.
“We really appreciate what they are doing here,’’ she said. “This is the future.”
The Morrills also own another dealership in Franklin but said the roof of that facility must be completely replaced before they can think of adding a solar installation there.
The brothers said they refer to Planet Subaru as an “undealership” because things are rarely completed in a conventional way. What’s evident, though, is a shared commitment to excellence in business and to the planet, Jeff Morrill said.
“If we make it to the end of our lives and say all we did was sell a lot of cars, well, that’s not much of a life,” he said. “There’s something about being able to put your head on the pillow at night and know your life is consistent with your values.’’