Grand Marais Mayor Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux talks about his new solar installation

Grand Marais Mayor installs city's first grid-connected solar PV project

Grand Marais Mayor Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux and the Grand Marais Public Utilities Commission (PUC) installed Grand Marais’s first solar electric system recently. Owners of Art House Bed and Breakfast, Arrowsmith DeCoux and his family—wife Rose and son Ennis—are very involved in the community and they view the installation as a community statement (and basically the right thing to do).

This blog post is a blend of an article about the installation in the Cook County News Herald and a post written by the Mayor about the whole process.

The Arrowsmith DeCouxs first had to figure out whether or not they had a good solar resource. “Over the course of the past year Rose and I have been exploring the possibility of getting photovoltaic (electricity producing) solar panels on our house,” he said. “We went to the Minnesota Solar Suitability App at http://mn.gov/solarapp and found our house, which happens to have an “optimal” rating because of it’s southern exposure.”

After they found out they had a fantastic solar resource, they got bids from several companies and then dug into the design elements. “We finally decided on a design that would take advantage of our entire southern facing roof as well as adding a pergola to our deck to both shade the living room from the summer sun/rain and expand our production,” shared DeCoux. “Our plan for the future is to have the posts on the pergola carved in a Scandinavian style and then painted/stained to match the house/deck. We are also going to hang the porch swing that Rose has had in storage since we got married, so that will be a great place for us to hang out!”

Solar panels adorn the roof of Jay and Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux’s Art House Bed & Breakfast. The couple is the first in Grand Marais who will be able to generate solar power and sell power back to the grid

The first step in a solar installation on an existing building is to determine historic usage. The annual average electric use at Art House that includes water heating, but not space heating is 13,000 kWh. (The average Grand Marais residence uses about 7,200 kWh – 9,000 kWh annually.) To meet this annual demand, a 9.3 kW system would be required. However, due to space limitations on the existing south facing roof, they chose to install a 5.94 kW system, estimated to produce between 7,920 – 8,600 kWh annually. This meets about 64 percent of the B&B’s historic annual electric use and Arrowsmith DeCoux plans other energy efficiency measures to further reduce consumption to get closer to the system production. The 5.94 KW system is comprised of 22 panels by SunEdison (made in the U.S.) rated at 270 watts each.

A worker for All Energy Solar carefully placed a panel onto the roof of the Art House B&B. It took the company about two days to install the panels The whole system, including the panels, rack, micro inverters, wiring, disconnect, and monitoring systems cost $25,000. The family worked with Minneapolis-based All Energy Solar. The Arrowsmith DeCouxs applied for and received an Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency (AEOA) Business Energy Retrofit program grant for 30 percent of the total cost. After a down payment of $3,500, the balance is financed with a 2.99 percent loan for 10 years. Federal tax credits may also be available. The Mayor talks more about the money in his blog post about the installation.

Now the Mayor and his family can just sit back and watch the electrons roll in. There is a monitoring system attached to the solar installation that allows the family to see how much energy is being produced at any time, past or present. The B&B is connected to the PUC electrical service—or ‘grid’—through a bi-directional meter. The meter records how much electrical energy the building uses from the grid and how much electrical energy is sent back out to the grid. Depending on solar panel production and the building’s energy use, electrical energy can flow either way. For example, at night when the panels do not produce electricity, the grid supplies all the power to the building. On a sunny day, the panels can produce more power than the home is using so the excess is sent back out onto the grid and used in another building. An advantage of this system is the PUC buys the power put out onto the grid at the retail rate in the form of a credit on the utility bill. This is called net metering and is required by state law. If 100 Kwh from the panels are not used and put out onto the grid during month, the Arrowsmith DeCoux utility bill will show a $9 credit ($0.09/ kWh x 100). This helps offset the upfront cost of installing a system and will eventually pay for the system.

View of the data monitoring system

This is the first system the Grand Marais PUC connected to their grid. According to the Mayor, Electrical Director Mike Taylor researched the type of meter required and what was involved with the installation and the process went quite smoothly. By law, the connecting utility can only charge actual interconnection costs, which in this case came to $100 for the meter and installation time.

Arrowsmith DeCoux’s advice to those considering solar electric is to read Cook County Local Energy Project’s (CCLEP) booklet, Going Solar Electric – A Cook County Guide. A hard copy can also be purchased for $15 plus postage $3.54. Contact localenergy@boreal.org to order.

Interested in going solar yourself? Plan to attend the upcoming Solar Power Hour in Grand Marais on April 14th at 7pm at the North House Folk School! The Solar Power Hour is a free one-hour presentation that discusses solar market trends, describes the basic components of a solar photovoltaic (PV) system, outlines the evaluation process for installing solar PV, and introduces incentive options and economic benefits. We hope to see you there! Click here for more information >>

Watch a video interview by Northeast CERT Coordinator Bill Mittlefehldt with the Mayor:

For more information: See the Mayor’s blog about the solar system or the Cook County News Herald Article.


Get Answers blog series The Get Answers series on the Energy Stories Blog offers useful tips from CERTs and our partners to help you get to the bottom of your energy efficiency and renewable energy questions. Click here to see more stories in the series >>