Joe Videtta, co-owner of Laurel Lane Country Club in West Kingston, R.I., knew it was the right thing to do on so many levels. It meant being a good steward of the land, lessening his course’s carbon footprint, and making a significant impact on his energy bill.
What did Videtta do to accomplish all three? He built a solar farm on his course that fully powers every aspect of his club, from the sprinkler system to the lights in the clubhouse. He believes Laurel Lane, an 18-hole daily fee course, is the only totally solar-powered golf club in New England, and maybe the Northeast.
Videtta, who owns the course with his brother, Mike, installed a solar farm on about an acre of property the course sits on. The farm, which houses 14 solar arrays near the course’s eighth, ninth and 11th holes, was purchased from All-Earth Solar, a Vermont-based firm, and installed by general contractor E2Sol/Efficient Energy Solutions, which has offices in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Florida. The units came online last fall.
“Laurel Lane is located on about 180 acres, so it was an ideal location to install a solar farm,” says Videtta, who also owns Country View Golf Club in Rhode Island and Pine Ridge Country Club in Massachusetts. “We already had an electrical source near the pump station that cut down the total cost,” which was half-a-million dollars. The price tag for the solar farm was offset by federal tax credits, depreciation and a Rhode Island program that allows for the owner of a property to finance 100 percent for such a project.“We really wanted to do something different because we hope to remain in business a long time,” Videtta says. “Electricity is a major cost that we had no control over, and we wanted to do something about that. I started to see more and more solar panels on houses, and I said, ‘Why can’t we do something like that on a golf course?’ The solar farm actually overproduces electricity and we get a credit against the demand side of the electricity bill.”
One unique aspect of the solar panels is that they are not fixed but can rotate to follow the sun. Videtta says this type of farm is 30 to 40 percent more efficient than fixed solar panel arrays. The field is about 40,000 square feet in size and required shifting the location of the eighth tee.
“We are saving on our energy costs and the system is warranted for 25 years,” Videtta says. “Everyone thinks it is very cool and when they know that ownership is doing something with the environment in mind, they are pleased. In fact, I have had golfers come up to tell me how happy they are that we did this.”
Anthony Barrow, managing principal for E2SOL LLC/Efficient Energy Solutions, explains that each of the 14 AllEarth dual-axis solar tracking systems produce 216,000 kilowatt hours per year, offsetting 100 percent of the facility’s electrical usage expense. From groundbreaking to final installation, completion of the project took about 30 days, and the final grid interconnection took about 60 days.
Barrow says each dual-axis solar tracker is aligned to the sun at sunrise and follows the sun continuously throughout the day, adjusting its angle to the sun on two axes in order to maximize solar generation production. He says a dual axis tracking system produces on average 35 percent more power than a standard solar fixed system.
According to Barrow, the project went smoothly, including the standard process of obtaining town planning board permits, grid interconnection and Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy financing project approvals. CPACE is a financing structure in which building owners borrow money for energy efficiency, renewable energy or other projects and make repayments via an assessment on a property’s tax bill. Some of the approvals varied in cycle time, ranging from 30 to 120 days, depending on the agency involved in the approvals. Barrow’s company has installed similar solar farms at other commercial properties in New England.
If there were any delays, Barrow says, it was extended customer project financing approval through CPACE. “Customer property financing for the first lien had to be re-assigned to the solar project CPACE lender in order to qualify for 100 percent financing terms,” he says, but it was a minor hurdle to clear and didn’t delay the project to any significant degree.
Could solar farms be the wave of the future for golf facilities? Will golfers someday take them for granted as they do a maintenance facility or fairway mowers? Barrow believes the answer is a resounding yes.
“Golf courses should seriously consider turning their excess acreage, as well as empty facility building roofs and parking lots, into solar revenue producing facilities,” he says. “Why would anyone pay for electricity from the grid today when you can generate your own clean power? You can qualify for 30 percent of the total cost of a system as a federal income tax credit in 2019, 100 percent accelerated capital depreciation in year one, up to 100 percent financing through the CPACE program in certain states, and cash grants in other states. If the golf courses are zoned as farmland or in a qualifying small rural town, they could qualify for a government energy grant up to $250,000.”
Besides being able to offset the golf course electric demand expense through the net metering program, golf courses can sell their power to their local utility or third-party entity (in approved states such as Rhode Island, New York and Massachusetts) under a fixed term rate for 20 years. Any course, operating in the winter months with no golfing activities, Barrow says, could be selling power to their local utility to generate residual revenue.
“With the advent of the continued electrification of transportation, golf course customers will be soon arriving with their Teslas, Mercedes, Volkswagens, Volvos, and other electrical cars within the next three to five years,” he says. “If golf clubs and courses want to offer increased services to their customers, they will likely need to provide electric vehicle charging services to those who stay all day at the facility.”
Those interested, Barrow says, can review all federal and state incentives offered for such solar farm projects at http://www.dsireusa.org/.
The project has been so successful that Videtta Golf Management has strengthened its commitment to changing how their facilities receive energy. Plans are for a solar farm to be set up at Country View Golf Club. “We are excited about bringing that course online with solar power as well,” Videtta says.
Perhaps more courses will follow the Videttas’ lead in making their facilities as green as the grass that grows in their fairways and on their putting surfaces.