Steve Smith inspects the solar panels on his barn at Four Corners Gallery near Lake James. The installation of the panels was completed last week, and soon, Smith expects to draw the bulk of energy needed for his small business from the sun.
|6/10/2015 12:36:00 PM
Solar power will fire pottery kilns in Steuben County
|Amy Oberlin, Herald Republican
LAKE JAMES — A Steuben County business will fire its kilns with sunlight this summer, and beyond.
Renewable Energy Systems, Avilla, installed 40 solar panels on a storage barn at 4 Corners Gallery Studio and Pottery, 3765 N. C.R. 300W. The system produces 440 volts, which will power the studio, shop and associated buildings, notably three kilns.
“Our main use of power is the kilns,” said Four Corners owner Steve Smith, a retired Defiance College art professor. Smith and an elite crew of artists work at the shop, producing unique pottery sold in the gallery and marketed across the nation.
For May, Smith said his electric bill will be around $500. When the solar system is running, that bill may drop to zero.
Smith has been selected for Northern Indiana Public Service Co.’s feed-in tariff program, which pays a client to generate electricity with some price incentives.
“It’s based upon the amount he generates a month,” said Doug Ahlfeld, regional sales manager for Renewable Energy. There are times that Smith could make money instead of paying a utility bill.
Next year, Smith will receive a one-time federal tax credit for installing the green technology. He expects to save $140,000 in electricity over the guaranteed lifetime of the system, 25 years.
“This is better than any stock I’ve ever bought,” Smith said. His investment is expected to pay for itself in seven years.
Solar energy saves an average of $36 a month for home owners in Indiana, according to information at solarpowerrocks.com.
Statistics on alternative energy usage vary. Laura Arnold, president of Indiana Distributed Energy Alliance, is encouraging the Legislature to adopt more uniform policies, for both major public utilities and smaller cooperatives, to provide more balanced opportunities for consumers.
From a comparison of data of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission at in.gov/iurcand voluntarily reported statistics on the National Renewable Energy Laboratory website at nrel.gov, it appears that more than 600 entities are producing renewable power in Indiana.
Among the forerunners is a Hamilton business, Solar Usage Now, which has focused on thermal solar energy. The Indianapolis International Airport is home to the largest airport-based solar farm in the world.
Smith’s may be the first small business in Steuben County to use solar energy.
Steuben County does not have an ordinance regulating solar energy. An application to use solar panels at a rural Angola property was denied last month by the Angola Board of Zoning Appeals because it is not stated as a permitted use in an agricultural zone.
Arnold contends that laws prohibiting solar energy from growing should be examined, and rules should be implemented to provide for installation and inspection of quality solar systems.
“This year and next year are really critical to show Congress that this is really critical for business,” said Arnold.
In May 2011, Indiana passed the Comprehensive Hoosier Option to Incentivize Cleaner Energy program. CHOICE sets a voluntary goal of 10 percent clean energy by 2025, based on 2010 production levels. Utilities that elect to participate in CHOICE are eligible to receive incentives from the state to help pay for the cost of CHOICE-compliant projects like solar panels.
NIPSCO has three options for those who generate renewable energy, net metering, which provides energy credits on a utility bill in the amount generated; feed-in tariff, a check for the amount of energy generated; and cogeneration, which pays the energy producer for the amount of energy imported to the electric grid.
“Our current policies do not permit customers to form groups themselves to purchase and implement solar systems,” said Arnold. “There are other states that have been doing this that we can look to.”
In urban areas, particularly, some people don’t have the space to install solar panels. In some states, such as California and New Jersey, people have started “solar gardens” where they cooperate to install panels and create energy. Amish and Mennonite communities have some off-grid solar collection systems, permitted by their faith, said Arnold, to power electric tools and the like in a limited fashion.
There are solar proponents across the nation, including the American Solar Energy Society, which has a state chapter, and Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light, also part of an international contingent. Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light received some state grants to provide installation at churches along with education to congregations about the benefits to using renewable energy.
“These churches are very concerned about climate change and the impact of climate change,” said Arnold.
While solar energy might not work for everyone, it can be a cost-effective, environmentally friendly alternative for others, said Arnold.