It's the patriotic thing to do!
Twelve solar panels. Two wind turbines. It's not Sarnia or Buffalo Ridge. But those twelve panels and two turbines are enough to make Colton, South Dakota, the first energy-independent municipality in our fair state.
Mayor Erik Miller and Colton city staff hosted a ribbon-cutting yesterday afternoon to officially kick off their Energy Independent Community Initiative. Mayor Miller explained to a packed meeting room in the Taopi Hall that Colton has used American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars (you know, that nasty, useless stimulus money) to install enough solar and wind power production capacity to run city hall and the east and west city shops without grid power. Colton also used the money to weatherize the buildings, with new doors, windows, and insulation. Mayor Miller says their EIC Initiative has allowed the city to double its working shop space with no increase—and possibly a decrease—in energy cost.
Mayor Miller did not take credit for this forward-looking energy project. The "spark" behind the whole project is local resident Ken Hitzeman. The mayor said Hitzeman, a local renewable energy expert, brought up the idea of putting Colton on the map with wind turbines—"whirlybirds"—and other energy-producing and energy-saving projects. Hitzeman's passion for the project, said Miller, came from a simple commitment to the idea of energy self-sufficiency. Hitzeman is driven by the dread of seeing American energy dollars go overseas and buy even one bullet that might kill one American soldier. For his patriotic commitment to making energy here in small-town South Dakota, Mayor Miller made Hitzeman blush, just a little, by declaring yesterday "Ken Hitzeman Day" in Colton.
City officials took time to show us the nuts and bolts at the "East Shop" next to the Taopi Hall. The small wind turbine sits atop an old windmill tower which used to support a town emergency. How's that for recycling? (A city employee also mentioned his dad once towed that tower, upright, a couple blocks across town to its current location.) Three solar panels lie on the south side of the roof. Inside, a converter combines the wind and solar power for use. Excess power is stored in four batteries. The battery pack in the East Shop can hold two hours of power. They should last fifteen years, with a replacement cost of about $2000.
To extend the life of the batteries, a controller shuts off the wind turbine when the batteries are fully charged and doesn't switch it back on unless the batteries have been drained to 50%. The controller also shuts off the turbine if the wind exceeds 65 miles per hour. When the batteries run out, power switches automatically to the grid with just the barest flicker of the lights. A smart meter shows exactly how much power the system is producing and how much additional power the system is drawing from Sioux Valley Electric. Yesterday's grid power intake reading, with the wind turbine quiet and only the three solar panels juicing the shop: 0.0 kW. Ah, self-reliance....
Colton's EIC Initiative is bigger than just energy self-sufficiency for three city buildings. Ken Hitzeman is helping organize a community task force to promote conservation and recycling in Colton. That citizen group will also look for ways to promote energy self-sufficiency for Colton businesses and residents. The EIC Task Force will storm up some ideas at its first organizational meeting on October 19 (7 p.m., Daybreak Express in Colton). They will also start a dialogue about local energy independence on a new Facebook page, which they plan to launch in the coming weeks.
Mayor Miller may be new to Facebook—he said he just learned it for this project, and there were plenty of chuckles from city employees when the mayor asked at the press conference if the shop staff had all updated their Facebook status. But he already gets that the Web and blogs can support real conversation and exchange of ideas both within a community and with communities around the state.
And Colton's EIC Initiative will generate lots of conversation. Gubernatorial candidate and fellow Minnehaha County resident Scott Heidepriem was among the dignitaries who stopped by to congratulate Colton on the EIC Initiative. He noted that Colton will now face the challenge of being a pioneer in energy independence. Pioneers charge forward and solve problems, and then, said Heidepriem, they have to field all the calls and questions from other communities who will want to follow their lead.
Colton's EIC Initiative is a truly visionary, groundbreaking project. Colton's green innovation isn't just about saving the planet (though they're helping!). Colton is showing communities much bigger than itself that we can build the infrastructure now to produce our own power and build energy security at home.
Update 10:40 CDT: See more coverage of Colton's push for energy independence on KDLT.
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