Local project looks to lighten energy bills

Residents will install systems that use solar energy to preheat water and save money.

Than Tibbetts

Residents of the Southeast Como neighborhood might have a bright future when it comes to their energy bills.

The Southeast Como Solar Pilot Project – the first of its kind in Minneapolis – is looking to bring solar energy to homes across the neighborhood.

Justin Eibenholzl, environmental coordinator for southeast Minneapolis neighborhoods, said he is trying to sign up 20 people for the project by the end of the year. Seven residents have already signed up since a project kickoff meeting Aug. 17.

Residents will install solar thermal systems, which use the sun’s energy to preheat hot water. The system saves energy because a home’s electric or gas water heater does not have to use as much energy to heat incoming cold water.

Southeast Como resident Dianne Star said she signed up for the project because she thinks the environment is being treated poorly.

“This is something I could do (to help),” she said. “A project like this is grassroots. It can be done.”

Star is a data services coordinator for the University’s Minnesota Population Center.

The influence of the University might make the Como area more willing to undertake environmental projects, she said.

The solar project is also open to residents in Prospect Park, Marcy-Holmes, Beltrami, St. Anthony Park and Lauderdale.

Innovative Power Systems, on 16th Avenue in the Southeast Como neighborhood, will install the solar thermal systems.

Some residents might also be able to purchase solar home heating systems if their property has enough exposure to the sun.

Minnesota has more solar energy potential than Houston and almost as much as Miami, according to the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

Eibenholzl said several laws that will help lower the solar project’s initial cost will be in effect.

Minnesota passed a law exempting solar thermal systems from the 6.5 percent state sales tax. Also, a 30 percent federal tax credit goes into effect Jan. 1.

Individuals can take federal tax credits of up to $2,000. There is no cap on the tax credit for businesses.

Eibenholzl added that he is looking for additional incentives to lower the cost futher.

Southeast Como Improvement Association board member Connie Sullivan said other Minneapolis neighborhoods are watching the pilot project.

Sullivan retired from the University in May. She was a Spanish literature and culture professor.

She said one of the challenges to getting the project started might be a lack of a “critical mass” of homeowners in the Como area, but that the seven early commitments to the project are encouraging.

Sullivan has also signed up for a solar thermal system installed in her house.

“We have to do this,” she said of the project. “I just thought I’d do my bit.”