500-kilowatt solar facility near Joseph generating power

By Katy Nesbitt, The Observer November 09, 2011 10:39 pm

FLIPPING THE SWITCH: Jonathan Monschke and Louis Perry of Enterprise’s Sun Storage “flip the switch” on a 500-kilowatt solar array project with help from Eric Anderson and Jason Zappe of Pacificorp. The array, outside of Joseph, will power up to 100 residential homes. SUN STORAGE photo
FLIPPING THE SWITCH: Jonathan Monschke and Louis Perry of Enterprise’s Sun Storage “flip the switch” on a 500-kilowatt solar array project with help from Eric Anderson and Jason Zappe of Pacificorp. The array, outside of Joseph, will power up to 100 residential homes. SUN STORAGE photo

Wallowa County once again is setting trends.

This time it’s in solar energy product manufacturing, installation and power production. Thursday afternoon Jonathan Monschke and Louis Perry of Enterprise’s Sun Storage flipped the switch to a 500-kilowatt solar power generating facility outside of Joseph that will power as many as 100 homes.

After turning on the power at the Prairie Creek solar project, a tour was given of the City of Joseph’s Sewer and Wastewater Treatment’s 100-kilowatt array that will offset approximately 90 percent of the facility’s power usage. Both systems are part of the Oregon Solar Incentive Program through Pacific Power, Perry said.

Joseph City Council member Teresa Sajonia attended the ceremony at Prairie Creek and said she was excited about the Joseph wastewater treatment’s solar project.

“It’s a win/win,” Sajonia said. “The city of Joseph is looking forward to saving up to $12,000 to $14,000 a year in power costs.”

Perry said both have all Oregon-made components including photovoltaic panels, frames and tracking systems. Sun Storage manufactures and installs solar projects locally, but has projects in the wings all over the world.

“We use Wallowa County as a test lab before shipping to the larger market,” Perry said.

Monschke agreed that building projects locally will help the company become more competitive in the world market.

 “We ship products all over the world, but it is these systems right here in our backyard, that we see every day, that really bring home what we are trying to do at Sun Storage and that is to create good sustainable family wage jobs in what has been an economically depressed area,” Monschke said. “Projects like this demonstrate that there really is a bright future in solar, and all the money isn’t going out of the country. We are creating jobs right here.”

Eric Anderson of Pacific Power and Light works in customer generation and helps Sun Storage develop its projects. He said the projects provide economic viability and hopes that the legislature will decide to expand the incentive program.

This is cutting-edge technology and the next wave of the economy,” Anderson said. “We’ve worked closely over the last 10 months with Sun Storage and we’re pleased that the Prairie Creek Project is finally built. We are really glad they did this and used Oregon-made products.”

Oregon-made products include the frame and racking components designed and manufactured by Sun Storage, the solar panels manufactured by SolarWorld in Hillsboro, and the inverters made by Advanced Energy Industries/PV Powered in Bend. Renewable Energy Constructors of Enterprise, an Energy Trust of Oregon Trade Ally, served as the installer for both projects.

Nils Christoffersen, executive director of Wallowa Resources, an Enterprise nonprofit dedicated to expanding the region’s renewable energy opportunities and natural resource use, said he is pleased with the completion of the solar arrays.

 “With the addition of these two systems, Wallowa County is contributing to energy independence in Oregon. Combined with what is already operating in the county, we will generate enough renewable electricity to power the equivalent of 20 percent of county households. The driving force behind our efforts is to support the local community and create jobs while using the natural resources we have right here — sun, water and biomass.”

Perry, a native-born Wallowa County resident, was in the construction business before venturing into the renewable energy market a couple years ago. He said he sees a future for the industry here in Eastern Oregon.

“We are fortunate to be located in an area with such a dedication to renewable energy,” Perry said. “I know of nearly 1.2 megawatts of solar photovoltaics installed or in the process of being installed right here locally. These smaller distributed systems at point of use are really what makes a power grid robust and efficient,” Perry added. “While 1.2 megawatts may not seem like a huge number, in a county with a population of only 7,000 people, it is a very large percentage. I wouldn’t be surprised if, per capita, if it isn’t the highest percentage in the country.”

Renewable Energy Solutions, also of Enterprise, has been tracking renewable energy investment and its impact on Wallowa County since 2005.  Their annual renewable energy summary states that, “By the end of 2011, more than 10,140 megawatt-hours of renewable electricity will be generated in Wallowa County, enough to power 27 percent of county households, or about 840 homes. The combined value of renewable heat and electricity generated in Wallowa County is about $5.1 million annually (nearly 2 percent of the county’s gross domestic product).  It is estimated that more than 65 percent of these energy dollars, $3.4 million, are retained in Wallowa County through local ownership or investment.

Enterprise Electric has worked closely with Sun Storage during the alternative energy boom and did the electrical wiring for both the Prairie Creek project as well as the Joseph waste water treatment site, Jared Hillock said. In addition, they have installed several projects of their own. Following last year’s successfully completed solar array project on Cloverleaf Hall at the Wallowa County Fairgrounds, Hillock said they are finishing up an array at Wallowa Memorial Hospital as well as the City of Wallowa’s waste water treatment facility; both have benefitted from the Oregon Solar Incentive Program, a five-year pilot in its second year. Hillock said since the Cloverleaf project the price of solar panels have come down 300 percent.

“Solar power popularity pushed the price down and the market is flooded,” Hillock said.

Meanwhile, Pacific Power is slowly decreasing the rate they pay solar power manufacturers. A year ago they were paying $.60 per kilowatt and now they are paying about $.34 per kilowatt, Hillock said. As power rates go up for the consumer and incentive rates decrease, alternative energy sources are becoming increasingly common.

Wallowa County Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike Hayward said he thinks as the gap closes, there will be distinct advantages.

“It would be the best of both worlds if the price of the systems got low enough that they would stand alone without tax subsidies, or at least get close. Hopefully it’s moving in that direction,” Hayward said.

Hayward said he also sees an economic advantage to the advances in alternative energy and the interest in both local businesses and consumers.

“I see a definite future for renewable energy jobs here in both the design phase as well as construction,” Hayward said. “The most exciting thing to me is it’s something that can be done here — you can expand outside of Wallowa County into the larger market place and don’t have to build a big infrastructure. We have the raw material to support it and I think we could see 40 to 60 jobs in the field, counting biomass.”

Besides the obvious advantage of job creation, there are collateral benefits to creating alternative energy. Perry asked, “Why is clean energy important? Because it is efficient, cuts waste and pollution and dependence on foreign oil.”

Hayward agreed. “People that have invested in solar and micro-hydro have done so in part because they felt good about doing something environmentally sound — and financially it worked out with the various incentives. I think there are still those people out there who will do this based on environmental value.”

Perry said that reducing one’s carbon footprint has been an incentive for many of his customers.

“Most of the installations have been done by farmers, ranchers and other business owners who want to not only reduce their input costs, but reduce their impact on the environment,” Perry said.