Bismarck companies slow down their switch to solar power | Minnesota News



By AMY R. SISK, Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK, ND (AP) – A Bismarck company that sells hot tubs recently installed solar panels on its roof, making it one of the small but growing companies that have decided to “go solar” in a state that took a long time to adopt this particular form of renewable energy.

Jerry Caufield owns Spas Etc. on Main Avenue east of downtown Bismarck, where it also sells kiosks, pool tables and other merchandise. He said the decision to put solar panels on the roof of the building was twofold.

“I did this mainly for financial reasons,” he said, adding that the panels will also reduce his company’s carbon footprint and “It’s a side benefit.”

He expects the solar panels will reduce Spas Etc.’s monthly electricity bill. and that they will be amortized within 11 years.

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“In the summer when I have the AC and two or three hot tubs are working, that’s where I’m really going to take advantage of it,” he said.

The price of installing solar panels will vary depending on the size of the project, but a typical system on top of a home or small business costs tens of thousands of dollars, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

Solar panels aren’t commonplace in North Dakota, and the state tends to rank low in national rankings for solar energy construction. But the solar industry is growing, especially in Bismarck.

Jim Kambeitz is co-founder of Lightspring, a Bismarck-based solar company that installed the panels atop Spas Etc. in October. Most of the company’s solar energy inquiries come from residents interested in installing panels on their roofs, but more and more calls are from businesses as well.

Kambeitz was busy on a recent Saturday offering quotes to three companies.

“The misconception is that it’s cold in here, so solar power won’t work,” he said. “On average, we have more sunshine hours per year than Florida. They are more cloudy. A solar farm in North Dakota will produce more kilowatt hours per year here than in Florida, even if it is warmer there. “

The excess electricity produced by the solar panels above Spas Etc. will be reinjected into the electrical network. When the panels are not meeting business use, the building will draw electricity from the grid through Montana-Dakota Utilities.

Some of Bismarck’s most visible solar panels can be found atop the garages of four apartment complexes operated by MetroPlains. Executive vice president Craig Stenson said the company hired a Minnesota company to install the panels four years ago.

Two of the facilities are on complexes visible from State Street in northern Bismarck.

“I had a few bankers and other real estate professionals who called me to ask me why I had done it,” Stenson said.

He has an engineering background and wanted to help the planet. Federal tax incentives have helped make the facilities feasible, but he said there is a disparity between North Dakota and Minnesota, where his company also operates. Minnesota has state-level incentives for solar power. North Dakota does not.

MetroPlains nevertheless chose to install the panels at its properties in Bismarck.

“Part of me wanted a bit faster return on my investment,” Stenson said. “But North Dakota has my heart. This is where we started (the company).

So far in North Dakota, solar panels have been the most popular among homeowners and businesses. The state does not have large scale solar farms, although regulators have cleared a project in Cass County. A dozen proposed solar farms in North Dakota are in the lineups of the two transportation organizations that operate the state’s electricity grid, awaiting engineering studies.

Wind farms have been a more popular option in North Dakota for utilities looking to add renewable energy to their portfolios. But the wind industry and the federal tax credits that support it have taken a hit in recent years, as some lawmakers and residents of the North Dakota coal country see them as a threat.

The backlash has not spread to the same degree in solar, though McLean County last year declared a moratorium on solar power amid uncertainty surrounding the announced closure of Coal Creek Station, the most large coal-fired power station in North Dakota. The solar companies had expressed interest in construction projects that would connect to the power plant’s transmission line. The facility has since found a new owner who hopes to keep the plant running and add wind farms to connect to the power line.

Tribal communities have been among the biggest proponents of solar power in the state. Lightspring worked with former oil workers on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation to install solar power and partnered with the United Tribes Technical College.

The state’s largest solar installation is on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, where several rows of solar panels in a field near Cannon Ball have a capacity of 300 kilowatts – enough electricity to power about 60 homes in the summer. , according to an estimate from the indigenized energy operator. Some of the large-scale solar farms proposed for the state would have a capacity over 600 times that size.

Lightspring is not involved in larger scale proposals, although it aspires to work on larger projects. Kambeitz envisions a future with large solar projects statewide – not large-scale projects, but ones built by North Dakotas that can benefit small communities.

“We need to create businesses that involve as many North Dakotas as possible in the future energy economy here so that we don’t miss a thing,” he said.

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