Solar energy is hot topic at free educational lunch

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By Molly Moser

About a dozen people gathered for a free luncheon on solar energy from Kent Kraus and Mike Brummer of Dubuque’s Eagle Point Solar on Tuesday, Nov. 14, at The Stadium in Guttenberg. Kraus and Brummer provided information on the parts of solar array systems, the process of installing solar arrays in homes, businesses and nonprofits, and the tax credits that are available for doing so.

Eagle Point Solar is a locally owned professional solar installer with a team of 45 employees, including installers. The company has provided solar solutions for over 400 schools, city governments, farms, nonprofits, large and small businesses and homeowners. The company is starting a group buy program for Clayton County groups and businesses. “We will start at a particular cost per watt for a system, and as more people join, we’ll hit different milestones and the cost per watt will drop. So the more people that get in, the lower the cost of the array is,” Kraus explained. “If you get in on the front end at a higher level, you’ll end up getting a rebate later on.”

Federal solar tax credits are available at 30 percent of gross cost at installation. Though the federal government is currently working on tax legislation with regard to renewable energy, Kraus stated, “There’s no impact with the new tax legislation that’s going through for the next several years… Right now, it’s scheduled to start stepping down from 30 percent. After 2019 it will be at 26 percent, and after 2020, at 22 percent. After that it will be gone.”

The Iowa solar energy system tax credit for residential and nonresidential customers is set at 50 percent of the federal tax credit and renews annually. “On the state level, we don’t see Gov. Reynolds having any change in attitude from Gov. Branstad, so we don’t anticipate a change in the 15% tax credit,” stated Brummer. Solar arrays can also be depreciated like any piece of equipment for a business, which when combined with tax credits can offset up to 70 percent of the gross cost of the array. 

Solar panels collect DC current, which is converted to AC electrical current by an inverter and then connected to the local utility’s meter. “You will never be disconnected from your utility,” Brummer explained. The City of Guttenberg banks credits for solar customers, so when residents with solar power produce more energy than they use, the extra gets applied as a credit to their account to help pay for water, sewer, or garbage. 

The panels installed by Eagle Point Solar are hail and ammonia resistant. The panels have a 25-year performance guarantee and a 40-year life expectancy. For that reason, the company recommends replacing a roof prior to installing a solar array if the roof will need to be updated within the next five to eight years. If a new roof is needed after the array is installed, Eagle Point Solar will return to rotate the panels so that roofers can work beneath them one section at a time. “If you have good shingles, you can replace everything around the array, because what’s beneath is being protected by the solar panels,” Brummer told listeners. Steel roofs also work well with solar panes, but steel shingles require cooperation with the solar company when being installed. 

Rooftop panels add two to five pounds of weight per square foot of roof. Ground arrays are another option, and can be placed any distance from the building they’ll power. 

Eagle Point Solar paved the way (all the way to the state supreme court, in fact) in legalizing power purchase agreements (PPA) for nonprofits and municipalities. These agreements allow entities that can’t utilize tax credits to finance renewable energy sources by using a third-party financer who owns the system and can reap the tax credits and the revenue stream from the energy being purchased by the nonprofit – which pays no up-front costs and gets energy at a reduced rate. 

This arrangement can work particularly well for schools. The Bennett Community School District in Cedar County, was able to cut enough costs to get its budget out of the red after installing solar panels – to the tune of $20-25,000 per year. “One of the things that can breathe life into a school district is to free up general fund dollars. If they produce their own power then they can use the money from the reduction to pay teachers,” said Joleen Jansen of the Clayton County Energy District, who served on a school board for nearly 12 years. Clayton Ridge Superintendent Shane Wahls was in attendance at the luncheon, along with Central Superintendent Nick Trenkamp. 

“We collect the last 12 months of electrical bills and will look at consumption and expense, which allows us to put together a financial solar report looking at preliminary numbers without being on-site,” said Kraus. The initial report details the cost of a solar array large enough to offset consumption, the amount of time it would take the system to pay back initial cost, internal rate of return, and cash gained over the life of the system. “That is a free service,” said Kraus. “It’s really about education.”

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