Grand Marais—Grand Marais Mayor Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux, his wife Rose and son Ennis, installed Grand Marais’ first solar electric system last November. As owners of Art House Bed and Breakfast, the family decided to do this as a business and community statement.
The mayor worked with All Energy Solar, a Minneapolis-based solar company. They handled all the paperwork and installation, features that were important to the family.
The first step was to determine historic usage. The annual average electric use at Art House is 13,000 kWh. To meet this annual demand, a 9.3 kW system was required. However, due to space limitations of their existing south facing roof, the family chose to install a 5.94 kW system. To accommodate this, they built a pergola over their deck to hold some of the panels.
The 5.94 kW system has 22 panels rated at 270 watts each. This meets about 64 percent of the historic annual electric use. Using energy efficient measures, the family hopes to reduce their actual consumption. The system is estimated to produce between 7,920–8,600 kWh annually.
The system, including the panels, rack, micro inverters, wiring, disconnect, and monitoring systems, cost $25,000. The Arrowsmith DeCouxs applied for and received an AEOA Business Energy Retrofit Grant for 30 percent of the total cost. After a down payment of $3,500, the balance is financed with a 2.99 percent loan for 10 years. They also qualify for a 30 percent federal tax credit, but do not think they can use much of this because they don’t earn enough to take full advantage of this benefit. However, this tax credit can be used in future years after the initial filing.
Individual micro inverters are connected behind each panel. The direct current (DC) power created by the panels is changed to alternating current (AC) and flow through the monitoring systems to the building’s electrical service entrance panel.
The grid also connects to the building’s electrical service entrance panel through a bi-directional meter. The meter records how much electrical energy the building uses from the grid and how much electrical energy is sent back out to the grid from the solar system. Depending on solar panel production and the building’s energy use, the electrical energy can flow either way.
For example, at night when the panels do not produce electricity, the grid supplies all the power to the building. On a sunny day, the panels can produce more power than the home is using so the excess is sent back to the grid.
The other advantage of this system is the utility buys the power on the grid at the going retail rate in the form of a credit on the utility bill. This is called net metering and is required by state law. This helps offset the upfront cost of installing a system and may eventually pay for the system over many years.
When there is a power failure, the panels are wired to stop producing so the building is without electricity until the power from the grid is restored. This is also required by law as a safety precaution for linemen working on power lines. In order to have power from a solar system when the grid power is off, a storage battery system would need to be incorporated into the system design.
Being the first solar electric installation in Grand Marais, this is also the first system the Grand Marais Public Utility Commission (GMPUC) connected to their grid. According to the mayor, electrical director Mike Taylor researched the type of meter required and what was involved with the installation. The process went quite smoothly. By law, the connecting utility can only charge actual interconnection costs, which came to $100 for the meter and installation time.
For more info, visit www.grandmaraismayor.blogspot.com.—Virginia Danfelt