Solar Power Coming to Grinnell: More Environmental Future Ahead

COMMUNITY-Imagine Grinnell

Lily Bohlke

bohlkeli@grinnell.edu

Grinnell residents will begin to save money on electricity thanks to a collaboration between Imagine Grinnell, a sustainable energy organization based in town, and Ideal Energy from Fairfield, Iowa on a solar energy group-buy program this past summer. The program will focus on reducing energy costs and increasing sustainable energy in Grinnell.

Imagine Grinnell keeps the town of Grinnell “green, growing and playing!” according to imaginegrinnell.org. The organization has been active in educating the community about energy saving. They have energy kits at the Drake Community Library available to check out and conduct green energy showcases periodically. In addition they created Giving Gardens, an organization through which volunteers plant and donate produce to Mid-Iowa Community Action (MICA), a food pantry serving the greater Grinnell area.

Imagine Grinnell’s Executive Director Sarah Smith, a Grinnell community member who had consulted with Ideal Energy, thought the company would be a good fit for a solar initiative in Grinnell. Smith and Ideal Energy encouraged people to consider putting solar panels on homes, businesses and farms. Five percent of profits from installations during the summer will be going back to Imagine Grinnell.

“As a thank you, they’re giving back to our endowment,” Smith said. “We were not expecting that.”

Most of the energy from solar panels in Grinnell is built up over the summer because of the abundant sunlight whereas in winter, solar energy is not as reliable. During the summer, when solar panels generate sunlight, credits build up on electricity accounts and owners pay less for the electricity not fulfilled by sunlight.

In just three months, Ideal Energy has handed out 70 proposals for homes, business and farms that reached out with interest in installing solar panels. Ideal Energy gave them estimates on how much they could save on energy and installation costs. Seven people have signed with Ideal Energy and one person has already had the installation done.

Many people are cautious about solar installations because of the large upfront cost. Imagine Grinnell and Ideal Energy have begun to talk to banks about ways to make solar installations viable for more people in the community. Questions are being posed about whether loans could be paid off by money that would have gone towards electricity had solar not been installed.

“We’re looking for creative ideas because the up-front investment is a block for many of those 70 proposals,” Smith said.

Going forward Imagine Grinnell will continue to advocate solar energy in the community by compiling testimonials from those who have installed solar panels, encouraging electricians to advertise their solar abilities and involving as many people as possible.

“I would like to see big solar panels in some of our parks,” Smith said. “That … would show as a community we are working together to improve our environment.”

Smith hopes that renewable energy, like solar power, will become more widely used around the City of Grinnell in the long-term.

“We can’t keep using coal,” Smith said. “It won’t be there forever, so we’ve got to start using renewable sources.”