Mary Pickford Theater

How we helped our client save $230,000 on their energy bill in one year

The Story

The state-of-the-art Mary Pickford movie theater in Cathedral City, California, is a cinema with 14 screens, serving thousands of visitors each week. Their busiest hours are during the evening, which is also when energy purchased from the utility companies is now due to the new rate schedule time of use, the most expensive.

The owner knew that in order to keep his ticket prices competitive with other theaters and with streaming services like Netflix, he’d have to find a way to reduce his operational expenses. This was the most logical way for the theater to meet their profitability goals while still keeping their ticket prices attractive to customers.

After reviewing the benefits of solar with battery energy storage, and understanding the long-term financial results, he decided to work with the solar and energy experts at Aeterna Energy.

After detailed planning, Aeterna Energy developed a custom commercial solar with battery storage system that will save the theater millions in operational expenses in the years to come.

This makes Mary Pickford Theater the largest privately owned commercial solar energy with battery storage plant in the country.


Annual utility bill before


Annual utility bill After

$4.6M in 21 Years

Estimated Long-term savings


  • Before solar with battery energy storage, the theater’s annual energy bill was $231,631. This cost was making it difficult for the theater to manage their profitability while preparing for increasing energy and payroll expenses.
  • Utility bills were increasing because of electrical time-of-use changes. The theater’s busiest hours are in the evening between 4pm and 9pm, which is now when electricity is most expensive.
  • With minimum wage increasing to $15 an hour in many territories, the theater needed to find a way to offset their increasing payroll expenses. Based on approximately 42 employees and 1/2 with a $3 hourly increase, the theater would need to accommodate around $10,000 per month in additional payroll expenses.
  • In order to take full advantage of the 30% government tax credit, the theater needed to complete the project before 2020, since the tax credit will reduce to 26% the following year.


Aeterna Energy developed a custom commercial solar with battery storage system for the Mary Pickford theater, which reduced their energy bills immediately and future years.

The technology includes a 620-kW roof-mounted solar system with 1000 kW/hour of battery storage, making this commercial solar power system the first of its kind in the country.

In addition to solar, Aeterna Energy took savings one step further by lowering other energy expenditures:

  • Improved air conditioning efficiency by 20% with new energy management software matching the needs of the building and replaced old A/C units with high efficiency equipment.
  • Evaluated each theaters’ energy needs by performing title 24 calculations to determine the necessary heating and cooling requirements and adjusting the air conditioning settings. Ten of the air conditioning units from the original design could be shut down and became unnecessary and redundant but used only for back up or supplemental cooling in the summer months when temperatures reach 115 degrees on the desert. Window tinting on the massive front lobby windows cut the solar heat by 10 degrees.
  • These changes helped lower the energy usage before solar with energy storage was even implemented.

The Result

The results have been astounding, and will provide the theater with financial benefits for years to come. Before implementing solar with energy storage, Aeterna Energy lowered the utility bill electrical consumption by $48,000 per year by replacing old air conditioning with high efficiency A/C’s, using energy management controls, LED lighting improvements, and window tinting. Aeterna Energy then with the implementation of solar and energy storage reduced the annual utility bill by $131,307.

In the first year alone, the Mary Pickford theater saved  $230,000 on their energy bill.

The savings keep on going. Using intelligent financial modeling software, it’s clear that the Mary Pickford theater will save close to $5 million in 21 years. The solar with battery storage system enables the theater to be almost fully independent from the utility grid during most of the operating hours. Considering the high temperatures of the California desert, this is both a technological and engineering accomplishment.

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