Solar panels give old building new power source
Backward-winding meter means town is moving forward
BY MIKE WARREN
TOWN OF GRANT – Recently-installed solar panels on the nearly 120-year-old Grant Town Hall at Kellner are a clear sign officials are moving a building of the past into the future.
Using federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, the solar panels were one of three purchases officials made which will save the Portage County township money in the long run.
“We brought it up at our annual meeting and (someone) brought up the idea, ‘Let’s get solar panels for the town hall.’ And at that meeting then a couple other residents said, ‘Oh that might be a good idea. Let’s investigate that further.’ So, it came out of, I want to say, residents’ ideas,” Town Treasurer Greg Hakala told us, in a July 24 interview.
Hakala said other ideas for spending the federal funds included mainly road and bridge projects.
“There was more interest in the solar thing than anything else,” he said. “So, we got some rough estimates and around $25,000, which – out of the $206,000 – it’s a small amount to use for something like that,” Hakala said. “Plus, it’s gonna pay itself back for decades now. You know, it’ll save us money every year.”
Town officials also brought in a building inspector to make sure the 119-year-old building, at 9011 Hwy. WW, could support the new solar panels.
“So, we had a couple of residents and one of the former supervisors brought up the fact that, ‘Well, you better check the roof. Make sure it can support that.’ To be safe we did bring in an inspector,” Hakala said. “The solar people checked it out, too, when they first came.”
The solar panels were already saving the township money as soon as officials flipped the switch to turn them on July 19.
“When we flipped the switch the meter starts running backwards,” Hakala recalled. “He (Northwind Solar official) says, ‘When it’s running backwards like that, you’re generating more electricity than you’re using.’ It’s gonna be like that all day long,” Hakala added. “You know, a town hall…so, we got 22 panels up there. The town hall…three days a month are there people in there with the lights on or anything, because the town board only meets once a month. Planning and Zoning Committee meets there once a month (as does the town’s First Responders group). But, probably 90 percent of the time there’s nothing going on,” he added. “The lights are off. We don’t have central air, so there’s no big usage in the summertime for central air. It’s more of a solar farm than it is powering the town hall.”
Northwind Solar of Amherst provided and installed the new panels, at a total project cost of $24,990.
A breakdown shows the system cost per watt is $2.84. The system (DC) capacity is rated at 8.80 kW, while the estimated annual kWh production is 10,993 kWh. Even after a new trash compactor at the town transfer station goes online, the system is anticipated to offset a good portion of the township’s current energy usage. If any excess power is generated, it would get sold back to the utility (Wisconsin Rapids Water Works & Lighting Commission) at roughly half the cost to produce it.
Once online, the trash compactor at the town transfer station – another purchase made with the ARPA funds – will help the township reduce the number of times its dumpsters have to be emptied by Waste Management.
“We pay Waste Management to haul away dumpsters, and we fill up a couple of these big dumpsters every time the dump’s open,” Hakala notes. “With a compactor we’ll be able to compact the trash. We figure that’s going to save the town about $16,000 a year on haulage charges.”
The savings don’t stop there. Grant is receiving a Focus on Energy rebate of $1,687 and a Federal Tax rebate of 30 percent of the cost, or $7,497, which makes the actual cost of the project $15,906.
The town uses electricity at four locations – the town hall, the town highway maintenance garage, street lights for a subdivision and at the transfer station.
“We just recently had a power line run to the Transfer Station to enable heat, light and cooling to our building there and in preparation for installing a large trash compactor system there,” Hakala said. “Our annual electric bill for all of these sites will run around an estimated $8,000 to $9,000 a year once the compactor is up and running.” With the new solar panels, Hakala added the town will save roughly 18 percent a year on their electric bills.
“The system, as it’s designed for the town hall, is designed to offset 119 percent of the energy for the town hall,” explained Jordan Kaiser, Northwind Solar. “So, conceptually, at 100 percent it’s offsetting all of the energy on-site that the town hall/utility garage requires annually. So, of that 119 percent, 100 percent’s offsetting the town hall and garage. That excess 19 percent, or whatever that ends up being, is then applied to other parts of their bill,” Kaiser added. “That 19 percent is then effectively icing on the cake, being applied to other parts of their bill. They’re still going to have a utility bill particular to other sites. It just so happens that this system can chip into that bill slightly. So, 18-20 percent I’d say annually on their entire electric bill. Maybe the best way to say it is that it’s generating a total of $1,100 a year in energy value, which means it’s offsetting 100 percent of the energy required for the town hall and utility building, and excess energy beyond that is being applied to other parts of the bill.”
The town elected not to purchase and install power-storing batteries or an electric-vehicle charging station at the town hall, but may look into adding those options at some point in the future.
Hakala is also the Portage County Board Supervisor for that area, and is thinking of introducing the solar idea at the county level.
“The Portage County parks, they have solar lights in some of the campgrounds, but it’s a standalone thing. I think a lot of places could benefit from looking into this,” he said. “It all depends on the payback.”
Northwind Solar also has a pending installation next spring for the Town of Hull, Stevens Point and is wrapping up a project in Waupaca as well.
Learn more at northwindre.com.