Stuff Etc adds solar power to Iowa stores

Retailer expects to save $75,000 per year on electric bills

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A Coralville consignment store chain is turning to solar energy to save money on its utility bills.

Stuff Etc, with six stores in Iowa, contracted with Ideal Energy Solar of Fairfield to install solar panels on the roofs of its buildings at 252 Blairs Ferry Rd. NE in Cedar Rapids and 2818 Commerce Dr. in Coralville.

Channing Congdon, solar design specialist at Ideal Energy Solar, said the Cedar Rapids store’s solar array will generate 227.5 kilowatts, while the Coralville store’s array will generate 215.6 kilowatts, for a total of 443.1 kilowatts.

Stuff Etc’s Coralville solar energy system will feature what is believed to be the first large commercial-grade battery for a solar energy system in Iowa, Congdon said.

On hot summer days, the system will detect when the store’s power use exceeds 75 kilowatts and switch to battery power until the demand is reduced. That will enable the store to take advantage of a lower commercial tariff from Linn County REC, which provides the store’s electricity.

“The larger commercial tariff that Stuff Etc was on did not have net metering available,” Congdon said. “Under the rules of the tariff, any time your use exceeded 75 kilowatts of power, that would bump you into the large commercial user tariff.

“The batteries prevent you from using more than 75 kilowatts, which keeps you on the smaller commercial tariff.”

Congdon said a commercial battery is not needed at the Cedar Rapids store because Alliant Energy offers net metering, which enables a customer to sell excess solar-generated electricity to the utility. He said Stuff Etc should end each year with a zero balance for utility-provided electricity.

Stuff Etc is expected to save about $75,000 annually on its electric bills or about $1.8 million over the next 25 years, he added. He said the systems also will prevent nearly 8,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere over the 25-year period, roughly the equivalent of planting 200,000 trees.

Amy Van Beek, Ideal Energy Solar co-founder and marketing director, said Stuff Etc had been exploring solar energy for about five years.

“One of our salespeople, Jeff Carey, knew Mary (Sundblad, founder and CEO of Stuff Etc) and that the company was looking at solar,” Van Beek said. “He set up a meeting with Mary and she liked the way we were designing the systems with the battery and other details.”

The Cedar Rapids system will have about a five-year payback, Congdon said. The payback for the Coralville system will be about nine or 10 years because of the additional cost of the commercial-grade battery.

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