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Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 18, 2018

Solar powered tacos? No way, Jose!

By By Justin Webster, Ledger sports editor | Jul 25, 2018

Fortunately for Fairfield, this is reality when you live in an especially enviromentally-concious community such as ours that is now the first town in the nation with a solar-powered Taco John’s.

It all started when a local businessman/meditator wanted to open a franchise that didn’t contain lard in its beans the way Taco Bell’s did and found that TJ was a “healthier” option. Currently, the location on West Burlington is run by local owner/operating manager “Taco Bill” Corrick and his partners/board members which consist of three Fairfielders: Bob Daniels, Chuck Espy and Tim Kuiken.

Taco Bill said they are locally involved because they are all part of the community. He’s lived in Fairfield for 30-plus years since he had moved to six towns in five years for the franchise and his wife asked, “Do you like it here?” to which he replied, “This is the first time I’ve liked both my store and my community.” She then responded, “Good, because we aren’t leaving,” and the couple has raised their four kids here.

Corrick also explained how lucky Fairfield is to have a Taco John’s in a town of this size, because of the cost to open a new franchise these days.

As a visable member of the community that he loved, Corrick dove right into coaching sports and about 10-15 years ago earned the “Taco” preface to his birth name. He figures “It’s work and it’s a business, but he likes to have fun,” and being involved has allowed the business to grow and explore opportunities such as the newly installed solar panels.

Corrick was first approached by a regular customer who had just started selling solar as a career and while Bill laughed at the suggestion initially, he told the guy to practice his pitch on him and at the end he asked for a proposal. After the new salesman returned with a $400,000 price tag on the investment, Corrick didn’t even bother looking at the return on investment.

Shortly thereafter, one of the company’s board members had solar panels installed on their home and expressed their pleasure with the results at a meeting and suggested looking at the ROI again. Upon doing so, the group realized the financial benefits and Corrick went in search of three proposals.

They decided on Ideal Energy which wasn’t the lowest quote, but the group liked their marketing the best.

“They’ve done a wonderful job and have given us everything we asked for,” explained Corrick who continued, “It’s been a great partnership.”

Construction on the 110 kW solar array began in March and now that it’s complete, will provide around 65% of the restaurant’s electricity needs.

Over the next 25 years the array will provide significant energy cost savings while preventing around 1,905 metrics tons of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere – the equivalent of over two million pounds of coal.

The Taco John’s array is part of Fairfield’s ongoing success at repurposing unused industrial sites. Like the Fairfield Loop Trail, part of the land that will be used for the solar array was once a railroad grade. The old Rock Island Line used to run east of Taco John’s.

The Rock Island Line connected Fairfield to Washington and Eldon in 1871 and carried freight and passengers to Fairfield for over a 100 years. In 1980, the line was closed and in 1982 most of the track was removed. In 2014, the Fairfield Economic Development Association (FEDA) removed another stretch of track to the east of Taco John’s. Taco John’s bought the property from FEDA soon afterward. When the array is complete, a rail line that once carried coal will be generating clean solar energy.

Corrick said, “It makes good sense financially for Taco John’s customers by reducing operating costs, as well as globally for everyone by producing clean energy.”

Bill also said the first monthly bill back was even better than expected, something Ideal Energy does on purpose by intentionally low-balling the ROI because they know they can save their customers even more than would make them happy.

In fact, the community response has been just as outstanding with a television installed in the lobby near the counter to explain the new-fangled gadget on the north and east sides of the property since so many employees were constantly being asked questions while trying to service the community’s taco needs.

Corrick adds that the franchise has always looked for ways to improve outside the box, but they do have certain parameters they must observe to maintain their continuity as a Taco John’s.

Taco Bill is certain Fairfield is home to the first solar-powered TJ out of 400 locations nationwide and doesn’t believe there are many, if any, other solar-powered fast food franchises in the world.

In fact, the group will be presenting their benefits at the national franchisees conference in Hawaii, a location that Corrick feels is perfect to showcase the connection between the sun, clean-living and tacos.

“Thanks goes to our board members that give me great direction,” said Corrick who continued, “Ideal Energy who did a fantastic job installing the equiptment and then the customers who have been the ones to make it happen. If they didn’t buy tacos and potatoes oles, we wouldn’t have a need for solar power.”

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