Auto store transformed into energy haven

Chris McWhinney, chief executive of Millennium Reign Energy LLC, and Wendell Ott, business manager of EnergyWize LLC, are leasing space at 530 N. Main St. as an office and showroom. A manager for a third firm, Energy Options, often is at the site but is not leasing space there.

McWhinney has built generators that store hydrogen, turning the element into electricity with fuel cells — McWhinney calls them “Auto Arks.” The devices can store power or fuel hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

The irony in the situation — alternative energy businesses based where gas-guzzling vehicles were once sold — is not lost on the three entrepreneurs there. McWhinney called the building a “one-stop shopping center for renewable energy.”

Customers can walk into a storefront and talk to entrepreneurs about purchasing solar arrays for a house or wind turbines for a farm, McWhinney said.

“There’s nothing like that that exists,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do, to run a sales and service center at this location.”

If a customer wants to power a home in an energy-independent way, “off the grid,” this trio of companies can help, the men said. Ott can offer solar power options. Bruce Hatchett, of Energy Options, can offer wind and back-up battery choices, while McWhinney can help with hydrogen storage.

“Renewable energy back-up power is better than (gas-powered) engine-based back-up power,” Hatchett said. “If you do have a long-term outage, you may not be able to buy fuel.”

And renewable systems don’t run out of their source power, he added.

“The potential of the three technologies working together is that you can become completely individually energy independent,” McWhinney said.

The three businesses aren’t the only occupants at the site. Some Ohio Department of Transportation workers are based there. About 45 people work there today, said Clare Kangas, who manages the property for Harmon Management Group Inc.

According to real estate web site LoopNet, the 50,800-square-foot property is for sale at a listed price of $725,000. Kangas confirmed that the property is on the market, but she said no sale is imminent. The property on just over one acre offers rooftop parking.

“If the right buyer came along, we would certainly talk to them,” Kangas said.

Harmon’s Cadillac closed in 2009, caught up in the wave of dealership closings General Motors imposed during and after its bankruptcy restructuring.

The dealership had operated in Dayton since the 1930s, but it operated under the Harmon Cadillac name since the late Larry Harmon bought the dealership in 1990.

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