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Randy's Ramblings: St. Croix Electric provides opportunity to go solar

My wife said, “You did what?”

I had just driven back in a blizzard from an informational meeting about St. Croix Electric Cooperative’s planned 88.5-kilowatt photovoltaic solar array.

The meeting was at Ready Randy’s south of New Richmond. Maybe the name inspired me. While others were still asking about the manufacturer’s warranty on the solar panels and what would happen if you moved out of St. Croix Electric’s service area, I got out our checkbook and walked to the table where Dana Bolwerk was taking deposits.

I wrote a check for the $350 down-payment and handed it to St. Croix Electric’s smiling communications coordinator, who told me the final payment of $1,000 would be due by the end March if the project goes forward.

I could have sworn that my beloved and I had talked about this. I know I told her the approximate price of a 500-watt unit of the array, and that I was going to the meeting. I assumed she knew what that meant.

I know what it means when she tells me she’s going to Elan women’s clothing shop on Locust Street. There’s a good chance a bank or credit card will be swiped.

To her credit, my wife didn’t protest too vigorously -- or long. She really is environmentally aware, and drives a hybrid to prove it -- albeit a pretty swank one. It fits her style.

I knew from the start that I wanted to participate in St. Croix Electric’s venture into solar power generation.

A statement that Lee Kisling made when I was visited his rural Hudson residence some years ago as part of a solar energy tour stuck with me. When I asked Kisling how long it would take for him to recoup his investment, he indicated that he didn’t really care.

The former owner of Twin City Signal, a company that designs railroad signals, said he was fortunate enough to be able to afford the photovoltaic and hot-water solar systems he installed at his residence. Everyone should do what they can to lower the carbon-loading of the atmosphere, he said.

Kisling, an engineer, also enjoys the science of the new systems. And they may pay for themselves over time.

So when St. Croix Electric offered us a chance to get involved with solar power generation at a bargain price, I figured it would be pretty hypocritical of me not to jump at it.

I’ve thought about going solar in the past, but we live in a twin home that’s part of a condo association. I’m not sure the association would allow rooftop solar panels. And if it did, they’d be much more expensive than the $1,350 per unit that St. Croix Electric is charging.

The demand for the 177 solar production units offered has been hot (lame pun intended). Bolwerk says 138 are reserved to date, and responses to informational packets mailed to 170 households unable to attend one of the meetings are just beginning to come in.

There’s also another informational meeting at the St. Croix Electric offices in Hammond on Feb. 18.

I told St. Croix Electric President and CEO Mark Pendergast that I could be talked into purchasing another unit in the Sunflower 1 array if the co-op comes up short on number of units it needs to sell in order for the project to fly.

I haven’t talked to the president and CEO of my house about that yet, so it’s probably a good thing that the co-op appears set to reach the required number with ease.

We don’t plan to go anywhere, so the investment should pay off for us, too. For a household that uses an average of 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a month, one unit is expected to lower the household’s average monthly electric bill by about $6.50. The savings will be greater as rates increase.

We have in-floor electric heat in the lower level or our house and an electric hot-water heater -- plus an electricity-devouring plasma TV that I really enjoy. In 2013, we used an average of 1,151 kilowatt hours of power per month, so our savings will be more than the average.

I could tell that to my sweetheart. It’s like those department store sales: the more you spend, the more you save.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

(715) 426-1066