Local company powers up SMUD solar

By: Amanda Drew
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Take an 8.5-acre turkey farm in Wilton and add a 1.2-megawatt ground mount solar electric system. That equals affordable solar energy for more than 1,000 SMUD customers. Premier Power, an El Dorado Hills-based company and the leading provider of solar power systems throughout North America, was delegated to install the solar farm by enXco, an EDF Energies Nouvelles Company that has had a 20-year relationship with SMUD. The job – to construct more than 17,000 solar panels in six weeks – was no small undertaking. “To complete a project of this size in six weeks is really unheard of,” said Bill Jeppesen, representative for Premier Power. “This is a large installation by anybody’s standards. A lot of companies will see that time frame and not want to do it.” The completion of the solar farm marks the beginning of SMUD’s SolarShares program, which gives customers the option of affordable solar energy at a fixed monthly fee. “It’s doing well,” said Jim Burke, senior product and service coordinator for SMUD and SolarShares program manager. “We have sold more solar energy in the last four days than in all of last year.” Although the solar energy will cost customers roughly 10 to 11 percent more on their monthly bill, there is a business incentive for consumers. “People tend to be drawn in by the fact that solar shares are guaranteed not to go up as long as they are a SMUD customer,” Burke said. “So it’s a way to lock in fixed-price energy as long as you remain a SMUD customer.” Premier Power expedited the project. “Anybody who can basically take an empty field and turn it into 17,000 panels in 60 days is recognizable,” Burke said. In a project that would typically take at least three times as long to complete, Premier Power used a method that is unique to ground mount installation: pile driving by vibration. “The vibration drilling method actually pushes the six foot support post four feet into the ground,” Jeppesen said. “It takes about one to four minutes to set the post.” Using conventional methods to install the support beams into the ground can take much longer because of the time it takes for cement to dry. This approach avoids the environmental impact of pouring 170 to 340 tons of cement into the ground. “With this method you can make a lot of progress very quickly,” Jeppesen said. And 17,172 solar panels and 2,312 support beams later, Premier Power delivered. “Premier Power prides itself on the quality of the installation they work on whether it’s a 2 kilowatt solar roof top or a 1.2 megawatt solar farm,” Jeppesen said.