Solar-powered system shines in Concord

The city of Concord's first solar-powered project is up and running.

A ribbon-cutting event was planned for Jan. 10 to honor the renewable energy technology that sits atop the downtown parking deck.

More than 250 solar modules make up three carport-style units. The "ultra-durable" system is expected to last decades. There are no moving parts and it syncs with the local utility grid through an inverter.

Steve Osborne, Concord's deputy director for planning and neighborhood development, said the project could serve as an educational tool for the public while promoting the city's commitment to renewable energy.

"Almost everyone says the same thing: 'It's a cool project,'" said Osborne. "It's very progressive and this is the future."

Costs for the $497,500 project were spilt by the city and private investor Stefan Gleason, owner of Hyperion Energy LLC. Concord used $245,482 in grant money from N.C. Department of Commerce's Energy Division.

The entire system's energy production power is roughly 80,000 kilowatt hours per year. That's the equivalent of taking eight 3,000-square-foot homes off the power grid.

"The direct benefit is it provides renewable energy," Osborne said. "It also created local jobs and everything up there is 100-percent USA-made and manufactured. But the fact that it's owned by the private sector on a government building also is pretty cool."

It also provides covered parking.

"For absolutely zero Concord taxpayer dollars, we got covered parking for more than 30 spaces and it cost nothing," said Osborne. "If the taxpayers were asked to do this, it would cost a couple hundred thousand dollars."

Argand Energy Solutions, which specializes in solar installations for commercial customers, installed the system and said the lifespan of the solar panels is 25-40 years. Hyperion Energy will own and maintain the system.

Gleason, 39, moved to Charlotte this summer. He also owns real estate, but this is his first solar project.

"I knew that I wanted to invest in solar because I believe energy prices are going to go up a lot - I think they're going to skyrocket in the coming years," he said.

He learned about the Concord project while researching potential solar projects through the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association.

While the project isn't unprecedented, it does make a statement about investing in renewable energy, Gleason said.

"Concord was pretty innovative in putting this project together," said Gleason. "I'm quite impressed. They wanted to build something to do with renewable energy and get covered parking, and they figured out how to do it without using any local tax dollars."

Gleason, who has a power purchase agreement with the city of Concord, will sell the energy created by the system to the city for about 5.5 cents per kilowatt hour. He estimated the system will generate about $7,500 per year at current power prices. Gleason will lease the space from the city for $600 per year.

There won't be any cash flow in the short-term but Gleason said he could possibly pay off his investment in as little as five years.

"These kinds of projects are called tax-equity investments, and accelerated depreciation and renewable energy tax credits are what make these projects economically viable," said Gleason. "Someday, they will be profitable without incentives.

"I think solar is a fascinating technology because it allows people to become more self-reliant. You can put solar on your roof and be self-sufficient. We need to look for more ways to be self-reliant and manage traditional energy sources as costs continue to rise."