Lou Smith is a co-owner/founder of the Scottish Heights Golf Club in Brockport, PA. The Jefferson County business received a $493,548.95 loan equally funded between the Metropolitan Edison Company Sustainable Energy Fund of Berks County Community Foundation and the Penelec Sustainable Energy Fund of the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies to assist with funding a solar energy initiative that eliminated nearly 100 percent of the Club’s energy costs for gasoline and electric.
With the reusable energy improvements, Smith estimated that his annual gasoline costs will be reduced from $20,000 to $4,000. The project has also slashed his annual electric expenses from $25,000 a year to somewhere “in the hundreds.”
Smith and his partners, brothers Dennis and James McCarthy, heard about the opportunity for a loan from the foundations’ sustainable energy funds through a company trying to sell him a solar panel system.
When the trio purchased the Club in 1998, it was a 9-hole golf course built on a strip mine for coal with little fanfare and lacking a strong vision.
Since then, they’ve given the property a major facelift in an effort to showcase the beautiful landscape of Northwestern Pennsylvania. More than 40,000 people from all over the region enjoy an elite 18-hole golf course with an award-winning restaurant, lodging amenities for up to 50 patrons and a place for people to spend a weekend at an affordable price.
But right as business was booming in the middle of the past decade, the great recession hit. That coupled with increased competition caused Smith and his partners to think outside the box.
“The golf industry was down, and there’s more and more golfing options out there,” Smith regretted. “The price continued to fall.
“In this business you can’t stay stagnant. You have to come up with ideas and be creative.”
For many business owners “creativity” coincides with cutting costs.
“For us, we couldn’t cut labor because then we were reducing our level of service to our customers,” Smith said. “You can’t cut costs on the golf course (itself) or the quality of the product we offer goes down. We figured that something we could cut without sacrificing either one of those was electricity.”
In 2011, the Club spent nearly $32,000 on utilities alone. The installation of the solar panels was a way to combat that expense spiraling out of control, not to mention help out the environment.
“The solar panels cover the energy expenditures of the lodging, the course, even a house on the property. It’s designed to take care of everything.”
Scottish Heights worked with one philanthropic organization in the past prior to landing a six-figure loan from the foundations. The North Central Planning and Development Company helped to finance the lodging three years ago.
“They (the foundations) were great with the entire thing. They wanted to help move things forward and were fantastic to work with,” Smith said.
Although the improvement made the front page of the local newspaper, Smith thinks it is more important that his patrons are appreciative of the changes. Scottish Heights may also be a trendsetter for courses around them.
“Two golf course owners have already visited and were interested to see how the whole system works.”
The solar panels include a 25-year warranty that guarantees 80 percent production in year 25 – the same amount as year one. The plan was a no-brainer for Smith and his partners, if not a shrewd investment that will be in Smith’s words, “a cash cow.”
“Ten years in the future this project is paid for (in full). There will be no loan payments or expenses.”
Fifteen years after he first purchased the club, its reputation is not only pristine in the community, but its operation is streamlined and environmentally friendly.
“Without North Central and the (Foundations), we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Smith said.
“We’re very grateful.”