By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN It’s the darkest time of year, but Lester Prairie’s Angvall Hardware & Mercantile and Fred Holasek & Son Greenhouses are ready for a little fun in the sun.
Both businesses recently installed solar panels as a way to make clean electrical power, avoid rising energy costs, and encourage the renewable energy industry.
“There are so many benefits,” hardware store owner Eric Angvall said. “If you’re able to swing it, I just think it makes so much sense.”
Greenhouse owner Fred Holasek’s system has been running for about three months.
“So far, it seems to be doing what they said it would,” Holasek said. “With the incentives from the federal stimulus, and grants from the state and Xcel Energy, our estimated payback is four to five years.”
That estimation is still tentative, he added, and only time will tell how well the system performs. The panels are designed to create about 10 percent of the greenhouse’s electrical needs.
Energy outputs can be tracked online by clicking on the “links” tab and going to “Enphase Energy” on the greenhouse website, www.holasekflowerpower.com. According to the site, the greenhouse produced a total of 2.6 megawatt-hours of power as of Nov. 18.
Angvall’s solar energy use and production can be tracked online at http://enlighten.enphaseenergy.com/public/systems/crFM10513.
His display is expected to generate 95 to 105 percent of his electricity for the hardware store for the next 30 to 40 years.
A sizeable investment
Solar panels are a “sizeable” investment according to Angvall, but he believes it’s well worth it.
The total cost was roughly $80,000, but it can vary greatly, depending on the type of cells, number of cells, and the way it’s installed. Angvall was able to knock down his price to around $11,000 by capitalizing on several grants and other incentives.
Angvall said his electrical costs have been roughly $2,000 per year, so although the system won’t pay off the first year, it should be a long-term cost saver.
“When I’m figuring budgets, I don’t have to account for electrical costs,” he said. “I’ve already made my commitment for the next 30 years.”
Cold and clear
Minnesota has shorter days with less sunlight in the winter, but the panels will continue to output some energy, even on cloudy days.
“The colder it gets, the more efficient solar is, because cold electrical wires create less resistance for the electricity,” Angvall said, adding that the most productive months are probably May and June, because of the long days and relatively cool weather.
Some months, energy output might be lower than usage, but other months might be higher.
“In theory, it’ll be a wash at the end of the year,” Angvall said, explaining that the energy company will give him a check for excess energy produced.
Two years ago, Holasek had been considering wind generation instead of solar power.
“We hesitated on the wind power, because there is a lot of maintenance,” Angvall said. “There’s virtually no maintenance on solar.”
Solar is more expensive, but Angvall said he’d rather make that investment upfront, instead of paying it out year by year.
Also, according to Angvall, the price of solar is getting lower, and the technology keeps improving.
Angvall said his investment in renewable energy provides an assortment of indirect benefits people might not immediately recognize.
“Everyone benefits because we’re doing this,” he said.
All his systems are American-made, helping to encourage growth of the solar industry in the US.
“I’m keeping the money here,” he said, adding that solar energy also helps to reduce dependence on foreign resources.
Solar energy also is better for the environment, Angvall said.
In addition, renewable energy lowers the demand for electrical companies, reducing the need to build new plants that could result in increased rates.
The City of Lester Prairie also benefits, he added, because his store and Holasek’s greenhouse are now worth more.
Angvall considers solar to be a way to help keep costs down at his business, because he won’t have to worry about increased electricity rates.
“I’m helping my overhead costs so I can exist and stay competitive,” he said.
Others considering an investment in renewable energy might not have the same incentive opportunities as Holasek and Angvall, however.
According to a Nov. 18 article from CNN, direct cash grants for these projects might come to a halt at the end of this year.
So far, the government has handed out about $5.4 billion, CNN reported. It’s uncertain whether or not the subsidies will continue, but the Obama administration has proposed a plan to fund the industry with money left over from the stimulus package.
Support for wind and solar might come in another form, however, with mandates that require utilities to buy a certain percent of their power from renewable energy.
According to MarketWatch, Minnesota’s mandate currently calls for 25 percent renewable energy by 2025.
To learn more about solar energy, go to www.solarenergy.org.