Volkswagen of America plugs into solar farm

Volkswagen is making das auto a bit greener. The automaker has begun using a 33-acre solar farm adjacent to its Chattanooga manufacturing facility to power up to 12.5 percent of the plant’s needs during full production and 100% off production. VW’s embrace of solar power will reduce its operating costs over the long term.

The automaker’s U.S. subsidiary announced that the farm went live in a press release issued yesterday. VW signed a 20-year contract to buy the electricity, earning it the distinction of being the first automaker to earn a LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

“We are proud to power up the biggest solar park of any car manufacturer in North America today. The solar park is another proof point of Volkswagen’s worldwide commitment to environmental protection under its ‘Think Blue.,” said Frank Fischer, CEO and chairman of Volkswagen Group of America. “Factory’ philosophy, a broadly focused initiative for all Volkswagen plants to achieve more efficient use of energy, materials and water and produce less waste and emissions.”

The panels will produce nearly 13.1 gigawatt hours of electricity per year, which would power 1,200 local homes for an entire year, Volkswagen says. VW’s 1.9 million square foot plant produces the Passat sedan, employing over 3,000 workers. While VW is lowering its manufacturing costs, it is not alone in its quest for greater sustainability, which also affects its bottom line. U.S. energy costs have been rising annually.

Last summer, Ford pledged a 25% reduction in the energy its uses in automaking by 2016. Ford has already cut the power required to produce each vehicle in its global factories by 22 percentsince 2006.