John Moore grows organic vegetables and brews his own beer with hops he cultivates. For 12 years, he has run a restaurant in a building he helped build. It may be only natural that the co-owner of Barley John's Brew Pub in New Brighton eventually would grow his own energy.
Sometime Wednesday, Moore will be able to throw a switch on a 5.8-kilowatt solar array that he and his co-owner, wife Laura Subak, hope will provide more than 30 percent of his electrical needs, depending on the time of day.
Moore is no tree hugger. The self-described fiscal conservative's decision to install the panels was a four-year process, and it was motivated as much by cold, hard business facts as by a deep-seated green philosophy. In fact, a previous false-start stalled partly because the payback time of five to seven years was too long.
With landscaping and grading work, the system that's in place in the back corner of his parking lot cost Moore about $50,000. But his final cost was less than half of that, with an Xcel Energy rebate of $13,500 and an $11,880 federal grant.
Now, he expects to start seeing savings in as soon as three years. The fenced-in array of 24 solar panels is designed to produce electricity for about 30 years.
"The decision was more what I wanted to do as a business owner," he said. "It made sense when we started thinking about it."
Moore worked with Cedar Creek Energy, a Coon Rapids energy contracting company, which installed the panels.
More businesses and farms are adopting solar energy, said Cedar Creek President Rob Appelhof. The price of solar is down about 50 percent over the past three years because of improved technology, competition and federal subsidies, he said. At the same time, the cost of fossil fuels generally moved in the other direction.
"Businesses like clean energy, but also take advantage of tax incentives and depreciation," Appelhof said. "It's taking a sustainable business farther."
Cedar Creek has seen business grow 300 percent over the past three years; over that time, Xcel Energy has paid out more than $20 million in green-energy incentives, Appelhof said.
Suited to northern climate
Solar panels work well in Minnesota, he said, noting that we get more hours of sunshine than some areas of Florida, and that the technology works more efficiently in a cooler climate.
Though the average turnaround with city approval and installation time for a solar array is two or three months, the ground-mounted design of Moore's equipment and its location in an urban neighborhood created new concerns.
First, the county's easement around his wedge-shaped property was larger than he thought it was. Although he was hoping to cover all of his energy needs, his growth to the north was limited and he couldn't lose any more parking spaces. So the green garden area on the narrow end of his property remains dedicated to tomatoes, greens and peppers, and Moore settled on an array that was much smaller than he originally wanted. The whole process of approval and installation took about nine months.
He had been concerned about red tape, but said the city was supportive. Officials have stopped to take in the panels and quaff a beer. Regulars comment on it, and a few customers have asked what it is.
"It's just a big thing out there," he said. "It's an obvious icon."
As of last week, Appelhof was taking note of the extended forecast for today: 78 and mostly sunny.
Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409