Solar Heat Makes Hot Salsa in Chicago

Salvador Lamas isn’t kidding when he brags about his Chicago restaurant Taco Burrito King and their hot-as-the-sun salsa. The restaurant’s new solar energy system, installed by Solar Service Inc., provides hot water for the main kitchen.

Chicago, Illinois – June 18, 2004 [] Lamas owns five of the Mexican eateries, and the new Chicago restaurant is the main kitchen and headquarters for this family-owned chain. He said the new kitchen is equipped with the most sophisticated and efficient kitchen equipment he could find because the salsa is made there and then distributed to the other restaurants. “The cost of natural gas for our restaurants was extremely high because of the large amounts of hot water we use,” Lamas said. “We looked for ways to reduce the energy cost, and solar was the answer.” Lamas has a background as an electrical engineer, and said he understood how much energy he could save. But he had to convince his partners, so he showed them a nine-panel system that can deliver 500 gallons of 120 degree hot water a day. The system could pay for itself in less than five years because of the cost difference between gas heat and solar heat. Over 30 years, which is the design life of the solar system, Lamas expects to save $100,000 to $200,000 on water heating costs. From day one it should save almost 2 million BTUs of energy each year. The state of Illinois gave Lamas additional incentive to go solar. He will get a $5000 rebate from the Illinois renewable energy fund. His new system will also entitle him to a 10% federal tax credit, and a 95% depreciation write-off. “Solar energy is renewable, pollution-free, doesn’t cause global warming, and it reduces our dependence on foreign energy,” says Brandon Leavitt, president of Solar Service Inc., the Niles company that installed the system at Taco Burrito King. “The problem is that most people don’t know that solar is also affordable, reliable, maintenance free, and available. Solar works great in Illinois, and we actually have a very good energy option to traditional electricity, oil, and natural gas,” says Leavitt. “The ability of solar energy to create new jobs and businesses in Illinois is potentially enormous.” “We are conscious of the need to use renewable resources, like the sun and the wind,” Lamas said. “We are thinking long term. If we don’t have to use nonrenewable resources like oil and gas, why waste them.” Since the kitchen started operating with the solar heating system three weeks ago, Lamas said he can produce 50 gallons of salsa for the same amount of money it used to cost to prepare 5 gallons. And with the sun supplying the heat, Lamas has more salsa to brag about every day.