KBIC earns award for use of solar energy

Daily Mining Gazette/Joshua Vissers The solar array that feeds the LaPointe Health Clinic in Baraga saves the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community about $15,000 a year.

BARAGA — The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) Committee for Alternative and Renewable Energy (CARE) has been awarded the Indian Health Services 2018 Green Champions Award for Sustainable Design and Facilities thanks to the KBIC Solar Project.

“We’re pretty excited about it, for sure,” said Jason Ayres, KBIC real estate officer and member of the CARE committee.

The project consisted of two installations. The installation behind the New Day Treatment Center was finished first in November of 2016. The array that feeds the LaPointe Health Clinic from the north side of M-28 wasn’t finished until July 2017 because of clay and sandstone boulders complicating use of the building site that required special installation with concrete ballast.

“It wasn’t easy to deal with,” Ayres said.

The contractor on the project, Homeland Solar, also set up a cellphone app that helps KBIC employees monitor the array. It displays a history of how much energy has been produced and current conditions at the array.

“I’m actually looking at it right now and it looks like we have three panels that are, for some reason, producing less than all the other panels,” Ayres said.

That dip could be caused by dirt or shade, or possibly a malfunction. The two installations together produce about 230 mW of power.

“That translates to roughly $35,000,” Ayres said.

That’s a lifetime-total since the arrays came online. The LaPointe array saves KBIC about $15,000 annually and the New Day array saves about $10,000. KBIC has been trying to secure funding to install additional arrays or expand the current two.

During the winter, the solar panels still work. In January of last year, the New Day array produced nearly 2 mW of power.

“Now, that’s not a lot per day,” Ayres said.

Short winter days do affect efficiency. The year-long average for sunlight in Michigan is 4.5 hours per day, according to Ayres. That doesn’t seem like much, but electricity prices are different, too.

“We pay almost double per kilowatt-hour than California, which gets 8 hours a day,” Ayres said. “We’re saving the same amount of money.”

If the cost of electricity went down, they would save less money, but Ayres says it’s not just about the money anyway.

“It’s also about sustaining our natural resources,” he said.


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