Soldotna solar installation soon to go online – kdll.org

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Whistle Hill, the complex of businesses just east of Soldotna including a coffee shop, restaurant and frame store, is now accompanied by a large assortment of solar panels. The final phase of the two-stage project, which will be completed this summer, was just awarded a $460,000 grant from the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program, or REAP.

The solar array consists of inverters, batteries and 600 solar panels and will generate enough electricity to meet the energy needs of all of Whistle Hill’s businesses.

“There’s a misconception that solar doesn’t work in Alaska,”
said Henry Krull, the owner of Whistle Hill and Peninsula Solar, a local solar panel design and installation company. “It’s dark up here, and it’s cloudy, and it rains and it snows, and all of those things are true, but the fact is that solar does work up here. In fact, solar works as well as many places in the Lower 48, it’s not as efficient or capable as a solar array in Arizona or California where they get sunshine 90% of the time.

“We don’t nearly get that degree of sunshine up here, but when the sun does shine, particularly in the summertime, you can create a huge amount of renewable energy,” Krull added.  

Krull originally wanted solar panels on Whistle Hill to provide an environmentally friendly way to offset high electricity costs incurred from fresh365, his indoor garden that sells locally grown produce. After receiving REAP funding for phase one of the project, 224 solar panels were installed in 2022 to meet the garden’s electricity needs, and then some. Not long after, phase two added another 376 solar panels to the property.

Krull says the latest Department of Energy grant will pay for 50 percent of the project costs associated with phase two.

“It just makes it more affordable, it makes it more reasonable, and the return on investment is quicker as a result,” Krull said. “I would’ve done this phase two project even without a USDA grant, so it just helped to make it more feasible.” 

“This project is a prime example of how the REAP grant program helps small businesses thrive in their communities by offsetting their energy costs,” said Misty Hull, business program specialist with the Department of Agriculture. “It’s a place that I frequent when I go down to the peninsula, in fact, last month I enjoyed a French press coffee made by the power of the sun. It was just a great experience, and I really feel like this is a program that has really helped these businesses thrive.” 

Although the solar array will power all of Whistle Hill, the businesses will remain on the power grid when solar energy is not feasible. Krull says the solar batteries can only hold a few days of energy supply at a time.

“I think it’s important that the community, or really the whole state, realizes that solar is a viable option,” he said. “It’s not the only option, it doesn’t work 100% of the time, but it is feasible to do solar in Alaska, it’s possible to save money on your electric bill.” 

Alaska gets more than 50% of its energy generation from natural gas. Krull hopes local utility companies will vet for more renewable energy options in the future.

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