Wood River Inn Receives Rural Economic Loan for Solar Project
Altenergy Completes Project Installation
Hailey, ID, August 23, 2017
Altenergy, Inc. (formerly Sagebrush Solar), helped Hailey hometown business, The Wood River Inn, apply for a USDA grant and secure a low-interest loan from a local family foundation to install the largest solar system in the Wood River Valley and to improve its operating costs as a business in economically challenged rural Idaho.
The 55kw, or 3200 square foot, solar system was completed this week. According to Billy Mann, Branch Manager for Altenergy Sun Valley, “Assuming snow completely covers the panels early December through early March, this solar system will offset about 40% of the Wood River Inn’s annual electricity demand and will save The Wood River Inn an average $7800 per year in electrical costs over the next 25 years. Most years, when the roof is clear all winter, savings will be about 15% better.”
A large portion of a hotel’s operating budget is spent on energy. Wood River Inn owner, Ryan Allison, had already invested in other energy-saving measures including installation of LED lights and energy-saving thermostats in all guest rooms. Mann brought the solar project numbers to Allison, and he says, “I looked at the math and it just made sense”.
For the electricity demand offset by this system, the Wood River Inn is effectively locking in an electrical rate of about 4 cents per kilowatt hour for the next 25 years, compared to the rate he would otherwise be paying to Idaho Power over the course of this project, currently 7 cents per kilowatt hour and potentially up to 18 cents per kilowatt hour by the end of the system’s life-cycle. These operating savings will help The Wood Inn remain competitive as a rural business.
The USDA Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which is “committed to helping improve the economy and quality of life in rural America”, offers $500,000 per year in grant funding to rural small businesses for renewable energy systems. Billy Mann, of AltEnergy, secured an $8,000 REAP grant last year for a solar project on the YMCA in Ketchum. Although this project has not secured the REAP grant award to date, the possibility of a grant award attracted the attention of small family foundation based in Hailey, The Tidwell Idaho Foundation.
A core charitable mission of the Tidwell Idaho Foundation is to promote rural economic development in Idaho through renewable energy adoption. Because this project fell squarely within their mission goals, the Foundation was able to loan money for the project at a below-market, low interest rate. The Tidwell Idaho Foundation encourages other foundations to explore the use of similar PRI loans to invest in other solar projects for businesses in Idaho. Altenergy has several shovel-ready solar projects seeking funding.
Mann has determined that after the system pays for itself, Allison will end up saving approximately $148,000 over the 25 year guaranteed life of the panels – money that would have otherwise gone to Idaho Power and out of the Wood River Valley. Overall, our Valley spends approximately $450 million dollars each year on electricity. When those resources are kept from leaving the Valley and spent within our community, the original project becomes an investment with ever increasing returns, circulating back around to sustain other businesses and services over and over again.
The largest barrier for business owners, however, can be the up-front costs, which Mann believes he’s found an answer for: he’s made it his mission to make sure his clients have options to fund their projects. New funding options have allowed significant progress to be made with homeowners who already taking up solar in droves.
“There’s a lot of people in this Valley who can afford to do this, they just don’t know it”, said Allison, “We live in Sun Valley, let’s put solar on our rental homes and our businesses; let’s convert our energy needs into savings and reduce the 450 million dollars that goes out of our economy each year! Can you imagine taking even a small percentage of that number and putting that back into our community? The compounded impact is much bigger than just one solar panel project.”