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St. Croix Electric plans 88.5-kilowatt solar array

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news River Falls, 54022

River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Editor's Note: This is a corrected version of the story that appeared in the Feb. 6 print edition of the Star-Observer. That headline and story had an incorrect number for the kilowatt size of solar array.

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St. Croix Electric Cooperative is planning to install a 88.5-kilowatt solar power array at its headquarters in Hammond that members can purchase a share in and reap the benefits.

Co-op members are able to subscribe to the energy generating capacity of the Sunflower 1 array in increments of 500 watts. A total of 177 units are currently available, with a limit of five on the number that members may purchase.

The price for each unit is $1,350, with a $350 deposit per unit due by Feb. 28. The final payment of the additional $1,000 per unit must be received by April 1.

The goal of the co-op is to have the array producing electricity by May 24, which will be the 75th anniversary of power being turned on for the first St. Croix Electric member.

That electricity was produced by a diesel engine located east of Baldwin, St. Croix Electric Member Services Manager Jerry VanSomeren told a group of co-op members at informational meeting on the project last week. The energy produced by the Sunflower 1 array will be far cleaner, he said.

Sunflower 1 will be the first cooperatively owned solar-power array in Wisconsin and one of only a handful believed to exist across the country. A Minnesota co-op started up our neighboring state’s first jointly owned array last December.

St. Croix Electric asked members in its November “Energy Lifestyles” newsletter whether they were interested in installing the solar array.

President and CEO Mark Pendergast told the group at the New Richmond information session that about 250 members responded that they were.

The project will be supported by federal tax credits and the one-time subscription fees paid by co-op members choosing to participate.

Only people who receive their electricity from St. Croix Electric may purchase units. The rural areas around Hudson and North Hudson are served by the cooperative. Some homes north of Krattley Lane in North Hudson also get their power from the co-op.

The members who buy a unit will have a share of the energy output of the solar array credited to their electric bill each month.

The co-op estimates that each 500-watt unit will produce about 740 kilowatt hours of electricity annually. A home that uses an average of 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a month is expected to have its power bill reduced an average of $6.50 per month, or about $78 annually, at today’s electric rates.

The payback for a unit at today’s rates would be 17.3 years, but as rates increase, the break-even period will grow shorter.

The co-op says the payback period drops to 15.3 years with an annual rate inflation of 1.5 percent.

VanSomeren noted that the economic benefit isn’t the only reason members are choosing to participate in the project. He said many are welcoming the opportunity to participate in a clean-energy project at a lower cost than installing their own solar panels.

The solar panels the co-op plans to purchase from Ten K Solar of Minneapolis are warrantied to produce electricity for 25 years.

Pendergast said Tuesday that 72 percent of the production units have been reserved to date.

He said the number of units can be expanded or reduced somewhat depending on demand.

A final information meeting on the project is set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18, at the St. Croix Electric office in Hammond. Members planning to attend the meeting are asked to RSVP to Dana Bolwerk at (715) 796-7000 or communications@scecnet.net.

More information about St. Croix Electric is available on the co-op’s website, www.scecnet.net.

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