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June 22, 2018 10:00 PM

Eye On KELOLAND: Keeping Sturgis Cool

The City of Sturgis is trying something new.  It has just completed a structure that will keep the hot summer sunlight off the heads of visitors during the Sturgis Rally, as well as keep the lights on at city hall.

And that's not all.   

City officials say the solar panels on top of a downtown shade structure will save Sturgis taxpayers thousands of dollars in electricity bills.  

It started when people said they could use some shade during the hot days of the Rally at the new Harley Davidson Plaza in downtown Sturgis.  

The city discovered a shade structure would cost about a quarter of a million dollars, so it put off the idea for a few years.

But then, someone suggested putting solar panels on top of the structure instead of canvas, and using the power to knock a big chunk out of the combination city hall/library building's electrical bill.    

Some calculations reveal that the space atop the shade structure, if used for solar panels, could produce about 40 kilowatts of electricity.  

"That's enough to provide about 40 percent of the building's usage during the summertime, and about 80 percent during the winter."   Van Zee said.

The city decided it's a win-win situation. And is going ahead with the idea.  

"The total price tag came in, I think it was about $5,000 or so more that what the fabric awnings would have otherwise cost, and in the meantime, we're going to be saving thousands of dollars each year off of our electrical costs for city hall." Ainslie said.

The city brought in a company called Interconnection Systems out of Central City, Nebraska. It has installed the largest solar array in the state of Nebraska, and has partnered with the Tesla company to install battery backup systems as well.  In this case, the company's technicians had to bore a 600 foot-long tunnel from the Plaza to city hall. 

"We ended up having to horizontally bore from here through the street, all the way down and then into the sidewalks and then tie it into the library." Conaway said

Project manager Nate Conaway said it wasn't something out of the ordinary for him and his men.  It's part of the package they offer. 

But the rain slowed things down a bit.

"Actually installation time has been about. We worked through the monsoon of South Dakota here, which isn't typical, but we got it through the rain we flew it up here yesterday. It's about a five day build on the actual structure." 
 
Conaway says he believes in solar power.  He says the solar industry now employs more people than the oil industry. 

"It is something that is starting to try to give oil a little bit of a run for its money."

Conaway says he believes in all kinds of renewable energy, but he says solar power has certain advantages over wind power. 

"They are a lot less maintenance than the wind. The wind takes a lot more maintenance than the solar. It's kind of a build it and leave it type deal."

The 182 solar panels on the Plaza structure have a guaranteed lifetime of 25 years. The panels will need cleaning once or twice a year, depending on conditions.   

City manager Dan Ainslie says he's satisfied with the deal.  And not just because it will help power city hall. 

"I think it's a good sign for the community as well, when possible, to embrace alternate energy when it economically makes sense."

And for Nate Conaway, he's says he's confident he's involved in a growing industry that will provide a livelihood for him and his crew for years to come. 

"It's an industry that's not going to go away."

The Harley Davidson Plaza in Sturgis was completed in 2015 and is being used as a central gathering place during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, and for other public occasions during the year
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