Moorhead municipal utility models clean energy solutions
Solar arrays and wind turbines are prominently displayed for all Moorhead residents to see.
Solar arrays demonstrate potential of renewable energy systems
MOORHEAD- If you’re going to be a clean energy advocate, you’ve got to walk the walk. And that’s just what Moorhead Public Service (MPS), the municipal electric utility for Moorhead, Minn., has done.
In 1999 and 2001, Moorhead installed two wind turbines to demonstrate the potential of wind energy. The two turbines stand tall—about 120 feet high in an open area adjacent to MPS—for all the community to see. Each turbine produces 750 kW of power, or about 0.5 percent of the total electricity used in Moorhead.
In 2011, the local utility showcased a demonstration project of three solar electric arrays, a form of renewable energy that is feasible for many MPS customers. Each array is ground mounted and tracks the sun to maximize energy generation. Each contains 16 3 x 5-foot modules covering an area 12 x 20 feet; the three arrays combined produce 10.56 kW, or enough to provide four homes with about 50 percent of their electric power.
“The solar arrays are prominently displayed for the community to see, with signage describing the system,” said Dennis Eisenbraun, energy services manager for MPS. “The idea is to show Moorhead that solar—and wind—are viable clean-energy options for many residents. We want to show our customers that solar works and works well in our climate. By seeing the demonstration site and knowing how much power one array generates, they can envision how much space they would need to add solar to their homes—whether it be rooftop or ground-mounted applications.”
MPS renewable energy rebate
To complement MPS’s “Capture the Energy®” demonstration project, MPS offers a renewable energy rebate of up to $1,500 per kilowatt to residential, commercial, industrial, and nonprofit customers who install solar PV systems and to commercial, industrial, and nonprofit customers who install wind turbines.
The Moorhead Public Service solar demonstration site gives Moorhead residents a sense of how much and what type of space is needed for a solar array to help power one’s home.
Several MPS customers are intrigued by the prospects of installing solar energy systems, and Eisenbraun anticipates that interest will translate into installations in the near future. “With our rebate and with solar becoming more and more affordable each day, we expect solar to gain momentum in our community,” Eisenbraun said. “In fact, we just completed processing our first customer-installed solar project with a local college.”
When MPS installed its solar system, the system cost just under $100,000. A $40,000 state solar rebate (funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) decreased the cost to $60,000. Today, Eisenbraun said the same size solar array would cost about $60,000, or 40 percent less than the price two years ago in 2011. A Moorhead homeowner would likely install a system about one-third or one-fourth the size of the MPS system to offset electrical costs. Taking advantage of a 30 percent federal renewable energy tax credit, the MPS rebate, and other incentives can make a small solar system quite attractive.
The payback for the MPS system is about eight years, Eisenbraun said. The payback for the MPS wind system was 11 years. Solar has the potential for more widespread application in Moorhead, because it can be installed over a much smaller area than is needed for wind, added Eisenbraun. Wind is feasible for farmers and others who live in areas where land is more plentiful.
Solar arrays exceed power expectations
MPS’s solar arrays were expected to generate 18,580 kWh per year, but instead they produced 20 percent more than that through the first year of operation, from August 2011 to August 2012.
“We are producing clean energy and reducing carbon dioxide emissions,” said Eisenbraun. “What’s more, the solar and wind systems are helping us meet our state-mandated renewable energy objectives.”
In addition to the clean energy benefits of solar and wind energy, the manufacture and installation of renewable systems puts people to work. MPS used Zenergy out of Sebeka, Minn., to install its solar arrays.
Utilities spur renewable interest
The MPS solar demonstration project is one of several ways that utilities are encouraging renewable energy throughout Minnesota, according to Stacy Miller, solar specialist for the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources. Several utilities are offering rebate programs and one—Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association—is creating a community-owned solar farm where customers can purchase shares of a solar electric system from the utility to pay for a portion or all of their electricity.
Minnesota is ‘solar friendly’
In addition to the renewable energy rebate offered by MPS, Eisenbraun said Minnesota is very “solar-friendly” when it comes to encouraging solar systems and other renewable forms of energy. The 30 percent federal renewable energy tax credit is probably the most significant incentive. In addition to the federal and utility incentives, Minnesota excludes the value of the solar electric system from real property taxation, and solar systems in general are exempt from state sales tax. Low-interest loans are available, such as Minnesota Housing’s Fix-Up Fund Loan, to help finance renewable projects. Also, renewable energy financing opportunities may be available for rural residents through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program.
For a comprehensive list of incentives from federal, state, and utility sources, visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency at www.dsireusa.org. For more information on energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions, visit the Division of Energy Resources website at www.energy.mn.gov.