Detroit Lakes' community solar garden officially went online this past Monday, and to celebrate, the public utilities department held a ribbon cutting and 'Clean Energy Tour' of the community this past Tuesday.

"It turned out to be a pretty nice day," said Vernell Roberts, general manager of Detroit Lakes Public Utilities. "We had about 32 people on the tour."

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The sunny weather was particularly advantageous, he added, because they were able to show what the instant production of energy output was for the solar garden. The on-site equipment included a digital display that was able to provide readings of its output "at any given second."

Currently, the two solar arrays on-site provide energy for a total of 40 public utilities customers, Roberts said.

"We have about 40 customers signed up, and we have room for about 10 more subscriptions," he said. "Anyone who is interested should make a decision by the end of the month (to sign up)."

After all of the current subscriptions are taken, Roberts added, no more panels will be sold until a new array is added to the site at 1426 Terry St., where two 40-panel arrays were erected this past August.

Besides the solar garden, "Clean Energy Tour" participants were also able to take a guided tour of some other energy efficiency projects in the community, including commercial LED lighting, refrigeration and other energy efficiency upgrades at Central Market, LED lighting used at DLPU's electric warehouse and the downtown LED lighting project on Washington Avenue, followed by presentations by the DLPU, Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) and Missouri River Energy Services (MRES), as well as appetizers and socializing at the community's newest restaurant, Hub 41, where the tour began and ended.

"We've had pretty good success with our energy conservation program in town," said Roberts, noting that a variety of local businesses, from Central Market to BTD Manufacturing have taken advantage of it to make a variety of energy efficiency improvements.

Josh Mason, energy services specialist for Detroit Lakes Public Utilities, says that the Detroit Lakes City Council and Public Utilities Commission have set a maximum limit of six solar panels per customer - and those customers who purchase the maximum six panels could see a significant savings. "Six panels could produce close to 40 percent of a customer's yearly energy needs," he said, adding that the output from individual customers' solar panels will show up as a credit on their monthly utility bill. Though the current site has room for at least a couple more arrays - a total of between 60-80 panels - Roberts said those won't be added until the DLPU has signed up enough solar customers to make it financially feasible to do so. Mason noted that investing in the city's solar garden project is "an easy way to get into solar energy" - without going through the effort and expense of having an array installed on the roof of their home or garage.

Some tax credits may be available to public utilities customers for participating in energy conservation programs such as the community solar garden, Roberts added, but noted that the amount of credits available varied from customer to customer. "You would need to consult with a tax specialist for more information," he added.

For more information - or to sign up for a solar panel or two - please call Josh Mason at 218-846-7133 or the Detroit Lakes Public Utilities office at 218-847-5658.