8/14/2014 10:43:00 AM Solar power gaining ground as a shared community effort
Ed Eichten stands beside solar array electric panels, with the existing solar array installation visible behind him. Eichten’s farm outside of Center City, is partnering with IPS and Xcel to provide space for Chisago County’s first community solar garden.
Even with heavy snowfall last winter and days- on-end where the mercury didn’t get above zero; Ed Eichten said there were maybe five days tops when the solar array; helping to power Eichten’s bison and cheese making farm were under slow-melting snow cover.
He’d walk out in the morning to check the electric processing panels attached to plywood boards under the shed roof, and watch as the red lights would flicker to green as the sun rose. Then he’d know the panels were feeding power into the farm operation.
A few feet away from the panels, at the cheese-making plant, there’s another electronic meter that shows when enough solar power is available to allow excess to be diverted back into the electric grid.
When that arrow is flashing to the left, Eichten can count on his Xcel energy bill decreasing.
The cost of power isn’t going to go down in the future, Eichten explained. Being very aware of costs and wanting to help the environment at the same time, the farm put up a solar system in 2012. These are all the same reasons why Eichten and Innovative Power Systems Inc. believe the community will be enthusiastic about the solar garden being installed at Eichten’s.
The farm is having such a positive experience with solar power; that the installer, Innovative Power Systems is partnering with Eichten’s and leasing acreage to provide a new opportunity to local farmers, homeowners and businesspeople through the “solar garden.”
On a field, next to the existing farmstead collector panels, space has been roped-off for a community supported energy plant, with a maximum size of 3,000 solar panels possible.
This solar garden is a first for Chisago County, according to Eric Pasel, a representative for Innovative Power Systems Inc.
Pasel was at Eichten’s last week for an open house promoting the solar garden.
The solar garden concept is in use in many other sites, however.
One interesting thing is that the state legislature, in establishing deadlines and incentives for alternative energy initiatives to be pursued in Minnesota, exempted power cooperatives. And, yet a lot of action in solar advancements is coming from electric power co-ops. The Wright-Hennepin Co-op erected the first Minnesota community solar array in Rockford, and the City of Ramsey also announced in April that Connexus is opening a community solar garden there.
This project, in between Shafer and Center City, is for Xcel Energy customers only.
In order to give customers a chance to ensure that a portion of their energy is not coming from coal or fossil fuels-- and in order to make this array of panels financially possible-- the project signs-up about $800,000 total in “shares” of the solar garden’s output over 25 years.
IPS’s spokesperson Pasel said by subscribing to the solar garden, regular people can support solar who might otherwise not have the ability to put solar power equipment directly into their business or homesite.
Even renters can support the solar garden and subscribe.
As with any investment you need to put money up front to see payback.
For an average residential customer the credits to be realized from this solar garden are estimated at about seven kw to a monthly home bill. At $1 per-- it will take $7,000 in upfront cost. The initial subscription payback is eight years. Over a 25-year subscription a homeowner reaps $24,000 in energy bill credits.
The Eichten solar garden is expected to produce 1.25 million kilowatts annually, which translates to not putting almost 2 million pounds of CO2 emissions into our atmosphere, according to the company estimates.
For commercial energy users the investment is larger up front, and again, payback over 25 years is generally projected to be three times the amount you put in to subscribe.
But, let’s say, you don’t plan on having the same address for 25 years. If you remain in the qualifying Xcel territory-- you can carry the credit with you.
Or-- Pasel said Xcel can apply those same credits to the next property owner; which he commented has been a positive aspect in real estate dealings.
Or, you can transfer your subscription value to another party in this Xcel service area. And, some have opted to donate their bill credit to a non-profit, positively impacting that organization’s budget by cutting their Xcel bills by the subscription amount.
Residents and business sites in Chisago, Anoka, and Washington counties are eligible to subscribe to this solar garden at Eichten’s.
You’ll need a recent energy bill and Innovative Power Systems will help get you signed up. Pasel said additional projects are on deck for other metro counties.
Innovative Power Systems is the same company that worked with Chisago Lakes School District on its multiple solar panel installations.
See www.eichtensolar.com or call 651-789-5305 for details or to download an application.
The installation of the solar garden at Eichten’s is set to begin in spring 2015.