0902 solar power II

The Guemes Island General Store’s array of 320 solar panels, installed in the field north of the store, is designed to convert sunlight into 118 kilowatts of electricity, producing 100% of the store’s annual electricity needs. (Courtesy / Mark Linneman)

Installing a solar power system can carry a sizable cost, but the Guemes Island General Store found financing assistance that will help it get a quick return on its investment.

“System costs vary quite a bit based on size and complexity. The average residential system costs around $25K,” said Dana Brandt of Ecotech Solar.

However, assistance in financing a system is available, including tax credits. And within five years, a home or business’ solar power investment can pay for itself.

Mark Linneman, owner of the Guemes Island General Store, said the electrical power his system feeds into the grid will zero out what the store pays annually for electricity, with the savings being enough to pay for the system within five years.

“I have always been a fan of solar power and currently run my house on solar,” he said July 20. “With grant (funding) and current tax breaks, it seemed like a great path forward for the sustainability of the general store.”

The store’s solar power system went live Aug. 5. At any moment during peak production, the array of 320 solar panels installed in the field north of the store is converting sunlight into 118 kilowatts of electricity — meeting the store’s annual energy needs and feeding excess electricity into the grid, said Brandt, whose company installed the system.

That’s 118 kWs of electricity that no longer has to be produced by Puget Sound Energy’s dams or gas-fired power plants.

‘One of the biggest’

The general store’s system “is one of the biggest systems around,” second only in this region to Chandler’s Square Retirement Community in Anacortes, Brandt said.

Asked how much his system cost, Linneman would only say “A lot.” He added, “It was only feasible due to a federal grant and tax credits. We received an FDA grant which covers up to one-fourth of the total project cost.”

Solar energy systems in Washington generate enough electricity to power 22,334 homes, and more than 70 schools in the state have gone totally solar. That’s according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade organization that tracks solar energy development and data in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Brandt said a federal tax credit and zero-down financing has made it possible for some to go solar at no additional cost and with significant bill savings in the future.

Organizations that can help include the nonprofit Spark Northwest and the WSU Energy Program Office.

How it works

A solar power system connects to the consumer’s meter, and the home or business uses that electricity as it is produced, Brandt said. Any excess electricity flows back through the meter and into the grid, and the consumer earns credit toward their utility bill.

As is the case with the general store’s system, a solar power system is sized to meet the consumer’s annual use, Brandt said.

Jeff Morris, a former state representative and longtime advocate of alternative energy, said, “You can end up, if you size it right, where you really wouldn’t have a utility bill at the end of the year.”

Such is the case with Guemes Island General Store.

Ecotech installed the system at Chandler’s Square which, according to Brandt, was and possibly still is the largest privately owned system north of Seattle.

The $500,000 solar array generates 171 kWs of electricity, the Anacortes American reported on Feb. 15, 2017. That’s enough, Chandler’s Square Community Relations Director Leah Yanega said at the time, to meet the retirement community’s energy needs and feed power back to Puget Sound Energy during peak production. She said the investment in renewable energy would ensure price protection later when energy costs may be uncertain.

According to Puget Sound Energy, solar power systems generate electricity even on days with overcast skies. The utility’s solar array in Kittitas County produces 50-70% of peak output with bright overcast skies and 5-10% with dark overcast skies.

“There’s never a day when you’re not going to produce anything,” Brandt said.

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