BAYFIELD — On May 11, Bayfield Electric Cooperative (BEC) decided to advance toward building the first community solar garden in northern Wisconsin.
BEC started selling shares of Community Solar to its members at the end of March. By last week, it had sold 722 shares at $500 each, with Mt. Ashwabay and the Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua selling an additional 14 shares and are still going strong.
Predicated on a construction bid on the project good until June, BEC originally set a deadline of June 1 as the cutoff date for selling at least 1,050 shares — enough to build one small 150kW solar generator — otherwise the deal was off. But that changed last week.
“The BEC board decided to move forward with the Community Solar Garden project since we are continuing to receive share sales and felt the interest in the community solar was there,” said Larry Roecker, BEC Director of Informational Services.
While only 70 percent of their goal has been reached, this decision means regardless of what happens next, BEC will break ground sometime this summer. The first solar generator will be located in Iron River near BEC headquarters and hopefully completed by fall.
Bill Bailey of Bailey’s Greenhouse is a big supporter of solar energy and has been nudging BEC in this direction for several years. He also has been instrumental in facilitating the inclusion of Mt. Ashwabay and the Lake Superior Big Top as shareholders.
“On April 21, the Board of Big Top Chautauqua made a motion to buy five shares in the BEC Solar Garden, and opened the door to solicit donations to purchase more,” Bailey said.
Since that time, the Big Top has raised an additional $2,400 in BEC solar shares, the hope being to eventually raise as much as 55 shares, 90 percent of their total electrical output. Ninety-percent is the maximum BEC will allow its customers. This would cover the Big Top’s electrical needs for the next 25 years.
As of April 25, Mt. Ashwabay Ski and Recreation Area also hopped onto this ski lift.
“The board approved unanimously to participate in BEC’s Community Solar and already has pledges supporting the project,” Bailey said.
Sue Radtke, Mt. Ashwabay board president, attended that board meeting on April 25.
“Bill Bailey, a huge proponent and supporter of the Solar Farm, made a presentation and answered questions. After a brief discussion, it was agreed that as a customer of Bayfield Electric and a non-profit, we would be delighted to participate,” Radtke said. “Ashwabay’s mission is all about playing in and preserving the outdoors. Through this initiative we are supporting an energy source that is local, clean and affordable, and we will benefit by lowering our electric bill.”
To date, they have sold four shares totaling $2,000. Their goal is to sell 15 shares by May 31. This would be enough to cover electrical needs for one of its four meters. For the second one — their next goal — Mt. Ashwabay will need to sell an additional 165 shares.
All donations are tax deductible.
“We are asking the community to support Ashwabay Outdoor Educational Foundation by purchasing shares on our behalf, especially community members that have never donated to Ashwabay but are interested in promoting solar energy in our region.,” Radtke said. “This is a great way for community members that are not Bayfield Electric customers to support the Solar Farm concept.”
The beauty of this solar garden is that BEC would own the facility without third-party intervention, thus capitalizing on all the financial benefits of solar energy while at the same time passing on these benefits to its participating members.
So much has changed recently in the solar industry. Installation costs have fallen, solar modules have become more efficient, and the Federal 30 percent renewable energy tax credit is still available to taxpayers. All of this means a great investment opportunity for participants.
“We’ll start out at 150 kW solar field with the potential to grow to a 250 kW,” said Roecker, who couldn’t be more pleased with the response from the community. “The community solar garden will be the largest northern solar field in Wisconsin operated by a cooperative.”
BEC has been working hard to develop its Community Solar.
“It began with an interest by some of our membership regarding the possibility of a solar garden,” Roecker said. “Bill Bailey and his wife Gayle, one of Bayfield Electric’s members, spent many hours helping BEC take our solar garden from a thought to a reality. Members interested in purchasing a $500 share will be part of the community solar, and members not interested will not be subsidizing the solar garden. Anyone can donate a solar share if they would like.”
Details and the timeline are currently being worked out for the project, which will be completed by this fall. BEC members can contact the main office at (715) 372-4287 with questions or go to the website at www.bayfieldelectric.com.
To find out more about Big Top community solar call (715) 373-5552.