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home : premium content : news April 30, 2016

6/26/2014 9:52:00 AM
Community Solar Project now being installed at Icicle River Middle School
Photo by Ian Dunn
The $129,000 Community Solar Project is being installed at Icicle River Middle School in Leavenworth. Organizers hope to begin producing electricity this week.

Photo by Ian Dunn
The $129,000 Community Solar Project is being installed at Icicle River Middle School in Leavenworth. Organizers hope to begin producing electricity this week.
Ian Dunn

The Community Solar Project, which was nearly dead in the water six months ago, is now being installed on the roof of Icicle River Middle School. The idea for the project came last fall, as part of the Earth Stewardship Group with the Faith Lutheran Church in Leavenworth.

One of the group members, Barbara Rossing, told the group about a solar project on her home, where she receives incentive payments from the state. Her idea was to do a community solar project, using the same state program.

Group member Lisa Therrell said Rossing was the cheerleading for it, feeding the group a lot of information about it.

"We were not really rolling with it, but still kind of absorbing it for months," Therrell said. "Barbara had to leave for Chicago. She said, 'it's dead unless someone picks this up in the next two days.' I was out of town. I said, it can't be dead. Mary Carol Nelson felt the same way. We thought that we would team up."

Nelson and Therrell were put in touch with Ellen Lamiman of Energy Solutions. Between the three, Therrell felt they could do it. They started out in January with a feasibility phase. They knew the state program, Renewable Energy System Cost Recovery, was only in place for another six years.

Lamiman worked with Mike McComas of Leavenworth Electric on a cost estimate for the project. At that point, Lamiman was able to run the numbers on the project.

"At that point, she able to determine we would actually have a return for the investors. That was maybe March when we knew it was viable. Then, we got ready for a public meeting in April," Therrell said. "The public launch was April 18 with a public meeting. The 19th is when we started accepting commitments from investors."

Investors purchase the solar equipment and recoup their investment with production incentive payments from RESCR until the program ends in 2020. The incentive payment is $1.08 for every kilowatt of electricity produced, divided among the investors.

The group needed to raise money and relatively quickly, so the investors could recoup their investment over the six years.

"That was really amazing. You never really know how the public will respond. This community has limited assets, but it was an exciting concept. We didn't need everyone to like it, we just needed enough people on board to help finance it," she said. "The donations were raised just four days from when we asked for donations. We had $9,000 in donations. After that public meeting, we very quickly had commitments where we could see that could do the project."

The Earth Day Fair brought in even more investors, allowing the group to jump from a 72 module project to a 96 module project. This would raise the rate of return on investments by 2 or 3 percent.

"Basically, I think anything that produces energy that doesn't cost anything or hurt the environment is something I am up for. Renewable energy is something we should be focusing our investments into," said investor Teresa Boushay. "I think it is so important. It is community based, environmentally based. To me, those two things together are awesome and really important."

In all, $9,000 was raised in donations and $120,000 in investments. The school district will benefit from the power produced, around 3 cents per kilowatt hour. Plus they will also receive a share of the S.N.A.P. donations made by PUD customers. By 2020, the school district will own the solar system.

"Initially, when we started the project, we thought the energy would flow right into the school. But then when the electrical engineers started looking more carefully, they realized the way the school was designed, it would be costly to retrofit the school," Therrell said. "Rather than do that, the electricity is going to the transformer in the street and into the grid. The school will be reimbursed almost retail value the cost of the electricity produced."

IRMS was chosen because the roof has a perfect southern aspect and slant. Solar panels are usually installed at an angle, but since the IRMS roof is already at an angle, that was a money saver too, since additional infrastructure did not have to be constructed.

The group initially talked to the city about using the Festhalle, but at the time, the city was in the midst of an energy audit of their own. Plus there were snow load issues at the Festhalle. Therrell said that will not be the case at IRMS, where the snow will slide off the panels onto the another roof below.

Plus students can monitor the solar system via computer, so it can be a learning tool as well.

"The solar system will interface with the school's computer system. That will be available on the internet through the school district's website," Therrell said. "That will be updated every half hour. We hope the kids will get involved to help the website be more instructive."

The modules are manufactured in the state, as required by the RESCR, and are under warranty for 30 years. Very little maintenance is expected, but a module might become defective. This will be detected via a signal to the computer.

The hope is to turn the solar system on this week, and Therrell could not be more excited.

"We are pinching ourselves. To have a return to the investors, it needs to be on by early June or July, and produce enough power over a six year period. They literally started installing it the day school got out," Therrell said.

If somehow the state extends the RESCR program, that would be even more return to the investors, she said. For Boushay, a Chelan PUD employee, the opportunity to invest in renewable energy was too good to pass up.

"I am really glad I took the time to look at that. We get things all the time to keep us informed about things related or not at all related to our business. I thought solar energy investment, perfect," Boushay said. "I am not rolling in it (money). We all have to think about something that is important. I am really aware of those sort of things. I think those things are way we should be focusing our energy."

Ian Dunn can be reached at 548-5286 or editor@leavenworthecho.com.

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