Bright future ahead near U

Solar energy is becoming a reality in a University neighborhood.

Angela Gray

The residents of the Southeast Como neighborhood are working to save the environment and are saving money while they are at it.

Thirty-nine business owners, landlords and residents signed up with the Southeast Como Improvement Association for the Solar Pilot Project. Each signature paid a $200 down payment to reserve a place in the program.

Because of a federal program that provides a tax credit of 30 percent of the system cost ” up to $2,000 for residential users, unlimited for commercial ” participants have an incentive to use the program.

The solar thermal systems Innovative Power Systems will install on the properties use the sun’s energy to preheat hot water.

The system involves roof-mounted solar panels which transfer energy that preheats an 80-gallon water tank. The system saves energy because a house’s electric or gas water heater does not have to use as much energy to heat incoming cold water.

Since August, Justin Eibenholzl, the association’s environmental coordinator, has been trying to bring solar energy to homes across the neighborhood.

Eibenholzl said he started working with Innovative Power Systems trying to establish a tax exemption for property owners using solar thermal systems and educating local politicians about the advantages of solar energy.

“I came up with the idea of purchasing the thermal systems in bulk for a discount and was surprised how many residents were interested,” he said.

The system has its advantages, but may not work for all properties.

“A good house for solar heating has good sun exposure and a south-facing roof,” Eibenholzl said.

The deadline for registering for the Solar Pilot Project was Dec. 31.

“As soon as the finances are in order and the equipment is ordered, we will begin installing the systems,” he said.

The thermal heaters will be installed as early as March or April.

“There are so many environmental benefits, which include a reduction in carbon dioxide and other combustions polluting the air,” he said.

He said that with all of the environmental benefits, each implemented thermal heating system is equivalent to planting 75 trees a year.

With registration closed for the pilot program, Eibenholzl said he is hoping the improvement association can apply for funding and do more comprehensive programs.

J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director for Minnesotans for an Energy-Efficient Economy, said people find using solar energy “ethical.”

“A lot of people like the idea of solar energy because businesses and residences can make a difference individually and are not reliant on energy from foreign countries,” she said.

Hamilton said Minnesota is a great place for solar energy.

“People are surprised to hear that Minnesota has as much solar energy opportunities as Miami, Fla., and Houston, Texas,” she said.

She said many scientists call Minnesota a solar resource because of the amount of available sunlight.

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

Tom Carhart, marketing director for Innovation Power Systems, said as a general contracting business, their business has been “thin” for the 15 years of its existence.

“With expensive heating bills and rising gas prices, people need alternatives,” he said. “That’s where we come in.”

In the Twin Cities, Innovative Power Systems installs most solar heating systems in residential areas, but because of the high demand, it has introduced their systems to commercial zones.

“The demand for natural gas is exceeding the limited supply which spikes energy costs,” he said. “Solar heating technology can help to offset against high gas bills.

“People choose solar heating for the economics, it’s a no-brainer.”

Bill Wilcke, professor of biosystems and agriculture, said he has used solar heating systems for agriculture projects, such as heating for livestock.

He said he has seen good and bad outcomes.

“In some situations, with drying grain for example, solar energy is not efficient; it is too difficult to collect enough heat in a short amount of time,” he said.

In general, Wilcke said he thinks solar energy is a good idea.