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Hand Motors – Achieving Energy Efficiency in Manchester, VT

By George Harvey

Two brothers, Jim and John Hand, founded Hand Motors in 1971 in Manchester, Vermont. The dealership has gone a long way toward efficiency and use of renewable power in the last few years, achieving some impressive results. Jim Hand’s son, Thomas, was a driving force behind this.

Solar array on a roof at Hand Motors in Manchester, Vermont.

Solar array on a roof at Hand Motors in Manchester, Vermont.

Thomas was a student at Middlebury College, and was very much aware of the environmental issues raised there by such people as Bill McKibben. In 2005, he came home from school and got his father interested in replacing all the incandescent lights in their home with compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). When this reduced the family’s power bill by 28%, father and son approached the town manager of Manchester, Vermont with the idea of having as many people as possible make the switch.

The next step was formation of a town committee to wage a campaign, the Manchester Challenge, with a goal of getting 40,000 lights replaced, five times as many as the highest goal attempted in Vermont to that time. They contacted Efficiency Vermont, from which they got considerable help, and by the end of the campaign, the number replaced was actually 42,000. The people and businesses of Manchester were saving $281,000 and eliminating emissions of 8,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year as a result.

Jim Hand took the matter of saving energy a bit farther. He installed a 2.5-kW photovoltaic (PV) system at his home. This gave him some experience with PVs that he could use at Hand Motors.

Hand Motors had taken a prominent role in the Manchester Challenge, of course, replacing all their numerous old, inefficient electric lights with highly efficient fluorescent lights. Electric consumption went from 28,000 kWh to 15,000 kWh per year. Jim Hand gives a lot of credit to Efficiency Vermont for the help they provided in this, and one of the things he did was to ask them to be kept abreast of any new developments.

Replacing lights was only the beginning, however. Thomas Hand and his brother Jamie did an energy audit for the business, and found a lot of places where efficiencies could be achieved. One thing they found was that energy and money could be saved by adopting new shutdown procedures for the business at the end of the day. Unsurprisingly, insulation was another issue, and Thomas and Jamie, now out of school, took on the job of starting an insulating business so Hand Motors could benefit from that.

Jim and Thomas Hand got involved in founding a business, Hand and Sun. At first, this business provided solar thermal systems for dairy barns and restaurants, along with two at Hand Motors. In time, however, it started working on a PV system set up on rooftops for Hand Motors.

The first PVs were installed in 2012 at Hand Motors on two flat rooftops. Since Hand and Sun was not set up to provide the grid interconnection, this was done by Dee’s Electric, also of Manchester. These PVs, with a combined capacity of 44 kW, performed better than expected.

The solar system was extended the next year, with the addition of another 102 kW of PV capacity on another of Hand Motor’s rooftops, a total of 583 panels. This brought the electric power consumption of the dealership down to the point that costs are in the range of $500 to $1000 per year. This is a reduction from annual expenses of $30,000 to $36,000.

Another issue that was addressed is heating. About a year and a half ago, an old oil-burning boiler was replaced with a far more efficient system powered by propane. This also resulted in cost reductions.

Jim Hand says, “I am always looking at the energy use hear. I keep pecking away, using efficiency to drive down energy use.” The current thing is replacing all those CFLs installed in 2005, as they reach the end of their service lives, with new, more efficient, longer lasting LED lights. Improvement is an ongoing goal at Hand Motors.

Meanwhile, Thomas Hand has started another business, Glow Heat, selling heat pumps, starting with a challenge in Brattleboro. Hand and Sun is working on installing a set of PVs at the Dorset School. Both of these efforts are covered by articles in this issue of Green Energy Times.

Hand Motors’ website is


Solar array on a roof at Hand Motors in Manchester, Vermont.


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