An environmentally friendly self-storage facility has opened in the western outskirts of Austin—and if the owner has his way it won’t be the last.

Green Storage Plus began operating on 5216 Electric Ave. on February 1. In its first phase, the 611-unit facility is equipped with 42 solar panels, LED lighting, an on-site well and septic system and an on-site recycling program. Owner Shawn Sharp is planning a second phase that will include battery technology.

“We will let it run for about a year and see our energy needs during the peaks and valleys so we don’t overbuild or underbuild,” he said.

As far as Sharp knows, the facility is the first of its kind in the Austin area. The Austin area is increasingly attracting workers from other locales who are more environmentally sensitive, he said.

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Off the grid

Building green makes good economic sense to Sharp in the long run.

“These systems will be paying themselves back [in cost savings] in six to nine years, depending on the rebates,” he said. “After that, we’re basically getting free energy. There’s no downside financially.”

An environmentally responsible facility will not only improve profitability, it will reduce the risk of energy costs going back up over time.

“Our goal is to be completely off the grid,” Sharp said. “At some point all we’ll need from the outside is the Internet.”

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Make it shine

The facility is technically in Spicewood, a fast-growing area near the Highway 71 corridor.

Sharp also took a modern approach to the facility’s design and infrastructure.

“We’ve got clear glass doors and electric doors where we can. There’s HD security cameras, and all of the latest technology,” he said. “Our competitors still have facilities that look like they did in the 80s – dim lighting and no solar. And our prices are at or below theirs.”

Sharp – who works in the tech industry – believes going green will be the trend in self-storage and he wants to be on the leading edge of that.

“Customers so far have been very impressed so we’re expecting to ramp up pretty quickly,” he said. “And then we’re hoping to open more facilities with the Green Storage brand.”

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Development takes off

Michael Johnson, a real estate broker with Austin-based Bellomy & Co., said self-storage development in Austin and Texas in general has “picked up in a major way” over the last 12 to 18 months.

“Prices for existing storage facilities are at an all-time high and some investors have shied away from acquisitions in this market,” he said. “So their efforts have changed to development in high-growth areas.”

There was virtually no self-storage development in Texas’ four major markets – Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin – from 2010 to 2012.

“During that time all of those markets were still experiencing high population and job growth but no new self-storage development,” Johnson noted. “There’s been so much pent-up demand.”

A green facility is a concept that fits nicely in a community like Austin.

“This is a tech-driven city, where many place a preference on green initiatives and protecting the environment,” he said. “From an owner’s standpoint it brings a competitive advantage and cost reduction on utilities.