Marquette flips switch on solar project

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Dubuque-based Eagle Point Solar installed the Marquette solar project this fall. The system cost $76,000 and is expected to offset 83 percent of the city’s energy consumption at the site. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

Well number four not only provides water to residents at Timber Ridge, but to other parts of Marquette, as well.

City Clerk Bonnie Basemann turns on Marquette’s first solar project—a 36.2-kilowatt system that will help power the city’s well number four, located at Timber Ridge Estates.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Marquette recently flipped on its first solar project—a 36.2-kilowatt system that will help power the city’s well number four at Timber Ridge Estates. 

City clerk Bonnie Basemann was the first to consider utilizing solar power for a public building after attending a May 2018 Clayton County Energy District workshop that highlighted the renewable energy’s potential uses and benefits. 

“We were just starting the Depot [Museum expansion project],” she said, and wondered if a solar project could fit into those plans. Marquette Public Works Director Jason Sullivan instead offered well number four as the “perfect spot” to test the idea. 

This fall, after significant research, the Marquette Council selected Dubuque-based Eagle Point Solar to take on the project. Before winter hit, staff had already installed the $76,000-system. 

Well number four not only provides water to residents at Timber Ridge, but to other parts of Marquette, as well, said Sullivan. According to Kent Kraus, solar energy consultant from Eagle Point, the city currently uses 56,000 kilowatt hours over 12 months at the site, costing $7,495. By utilizing this solar power system, 83 percent of that consumption can be offset, resulting in just 9,472 kilowatt hours at $1,370 per year. 

For this project, solar panels were placed on the ground, collecting sunlight near the well. During times of over-production, Kraus said the city can build up credits. Since the city will still be connected to the Alliant Energy grid, it can then pull from those credits during the fall/winter or on cloudy days. 

The project has a 10.2-year payback period. In 25 years, there’s an anticipated net cash gain of $173,000, with an 11 percent rate of return on investment. 

Now that the system is operational, Basemann said the city’s utility bill will break down solar power usage—and just how well it’s working for Marquette. 

“If we’re making the investment, we want to get a good return,” said mayor Steve Weipert. 

“But we’re also helping the environment,” stressed Basemann. 

According to data from Eagle Point Solar, by consuming these kilowatt hours through renewable energy rather than coal fire production, 954 tons of carbon dioxide will be eliminated from Marquette’s carbon footprint over the life of the system. That’s the equivalent of: 

• Planting 22,228 trees 

• Driving reduced by 1.9 million auto miles or 97,308 gallons of gas 

• Recycling 3,015 tons of waste instead of sending it to a landfill 

• Displacing carbon dioxide emissions from the annual electric use of 108 homes 

Both Weipert and Basemann said the solar project at well number four will serve as a test, to see if solar is feasible at other city sites, like the sewer plant. 

“We’re gathering information on other buildings,” Basemann said, “and if this pans out the way we expect, we’ll be ready to go to the council with ideas for those other buildings.” 

Solar power isn’t the only way Marquette is working to cut energy costs and be a good environmental steward. Baseman said LED lights were recently installed at the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre and city shop/Mar-Mac police station. The street lights are LED lights now too. 

According to Energy Star, LED (light emitting diode) lights last longer and are approximately 90 percent more efficient than incandescent light bulbs. 

Basemann said the city is getting rebates for installing those lights. 

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