BY KELLY MADSEN | IOWA ENERGY CENTER
“We want to show our students it is possible to be carbon neutral, and that sustainable practices are incredibly important to Luther College,” Jim Martin-Schramm, solar array project leader.
A campus powered by alternative energy, is a long-term goal for Luther College, in Decorah, Iowa. In Fall 2012, the college made a step toward their goal with the completion of the Baker Village Solar Array, which provides all electricity for the Baker Village student housing complex.
The possibility of purchasing and installing a 1,250 photovoltaic panel solar array became a reality because of the partnership between the college and a local alternative energy investment company, Decorah Solar Field, LLC.
The solar array was funded through various sources, including financing from the Iowa Energy Center’s Alternate Energy Revolving Loan Program, tax benefit opportunities, and a risk-taking investor. The project was completed in under a year and currently provides all electrical power for the 112 students living in Baker Village.
“Luther College knew exactly what they wanted in the project, but just needed an investor to help get things going,” Larry Grimstad, owner of Decorah Solar Field, LLC, said.
In October 2011, Jim Martin-Schramm, the solar array project leader and associate professor of religion at Luther College, approached Mr. Grimstad about the potential investment opportunity.
“I was excited by the opportunity because it gives me another experience in alternative energy investments,” Mr. Grimstad said. “Getting more experience is the best way I can improve as an investor.”
Mr. Grimstad was knowledgeable in grant applications, interconnect agreements, and power purchase agreements through previous alternative energy projects. His experience and the college’s focused plan for the project allowed the team to move quickly.
In order to utilize the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus grant, which covered up to 30 percent of the total cost, the project needed a significant start by the end 2011. Shortly after a verbal agreement with Luther College, Mr. Grimstad began the project.
“We got down to crunch time at the end of 2011, but with good faith we pulled the trigger and began the project,” Mr. Martin-Schramm said.
The Decorah City Council offered unanimous support of the project in February 2012, and Alliant Energy issued an interconnection agreement to Luther College in April 2012. Throughout the summer the contractor, Dragonfly Solar of Minneapolis, Minn., began building the massive solar array.
On August 24, 2012 the project went online and live updates on the energy production can be viewed publically at the SolarenView website.
The total estimated and installed cost of the system was $1.2 million. Luther College plans to lease the system from Decorah Solar Field, LLC for seven years, and then purchase the system at a reduced cost after it has been deprecated for tax purposes.
The college will make lease payments by utilizing funds previously used for electricity purchases as well as donations from the college’s Renewable Energy fund.
The solar array is estimated to produce 375,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually, which is enough to cover all electric power needed for the housing unit. The energy produced from the solar array coupled with the geothermal heating and cooling systems, will make Baker Village a net zero emissions facility.
“We want to show our students it is possible to be carbon neutral, and that sustainable practices are incredibly important to Luther College,” Mr. Martin-Schramm said.
Luther College has a goal to cut its carbon footprint in half by 2015 and to be carbon neutral by 2030, Mr. Martin-Schramm said. The Baker Village Solar Array is part of a larger series of alternative energy projects on the college campus.
Learn more about the Iowa Energy Center’s Alternate Energy Revolving Loan Program.
Baker Village Solar Array dedication event, KWWL news.