Installing solar panels to help supply power to the 18-hole golf course that is part of a 4,500-acre ranch has fit with the Spearfish, S.D. property’s goal of lessening its environmental impact and being a community asset.
The Black Hills of South Dakota offer some of the most scenic natural terrain in the country. In Spearfish, S.D., however, a contemporary twist became part of the landscape last summer, when Elkhorn Ridge Golf Club, an 18-hole golf course on a 4,500-acre ranch, installed 234 solar panels along the part of its property that abuts Interstate 90.
“We want to lessen our environmental impact and use the panels to promote ourselves,” explains Golf Course Superintendent Greg Brandriet. “We want to be a leader in the community.”
The solar panels, which measure about 6 feet by 3 feet each and extend 3 to 8 feet off the ground for several hundred feet, are visible from the roadway. And they have attracted plenty of attention from passersby.
“It’s a big structure to get used to, but the feedback has been positive,” notes Brandriet. “I like the sight of modern solar energy in a natural setting.”
Initially, he says, aesthetics, as well as any glare that might reflect off the panels and affect golfers, were a concern. However, he notes, the panels are designed to have a low reflection, so glare hasn’t been an issue.
And the reaction to them has shown that the solar panels are proving to serve as a form of green advertising, communicating the values of Elkhorn Ridge, a privately owned property that includes an RV resort, four historic sites, and the public golf course.
“It’s good public relations,” Brandreit says. “There has been a push worldwide for golf to get a little bit more involved with alternative energies.”
Located on the north side of Elkhorn Ridge’s irrigation pond on the 18th hole, the solar panels were installed to offset energy usage on the back half of the golf course. The club is served by two different power companies for its front and back nines, and the discrepancy in the monthly bills ultimately was the catalyst for installing the panels.
“We don’t use as much water on the back nine,” explains Brandriet, “but our electric bills were 30 to 50 percent more every month.”
Elkhorn Ridge expects to achieve electrical cost savings of 40 to 50 percent annually with the installation of the panels. While it is too soon to know if the property will meet those projections, Brandriet believes the electric bills have been lower since the panels were erected.
“[The solar unit] actually runs our irrigation pumps,” Brandriet says. “[The panels] don’t provide all the power, but they help to offset the majority of what we use for the back nine.”
Brandriet expects the offsets to be less during the club’s peak water-usage months of July and August. During January and February, however, the system will produce an excess of electricity, and that power will go back into the electrical grid. “Our goal is to find a balance,” he says
Elkhorn Ridge’s ownership and management looked at alternate energy sources and studied the economics of potential changes for several months prior to installing the solar panels, which have been up and running since mid-August of 2018. The energy-renewal company that installed the panels provided “a lot of data to back up what we wanted to do,” Brandreit says.
In addition, with the installation of the panels, Elkhorn Ridge qualified for rebates, including a federal income tax credit for 30 percent of the cost of the system, accelerated depreciation that allows businesses to deduct 85 percent of the value of the solar asset from their taxes, and a small-business grant.
“This is the future,” Brandriet says. “This is where business is headed.”
The total upfront investment in the project, excluding further depreciation that will be spread out over four or five years, was $154,000, but the rebates of about $40,000 have offset the costs, Brandreit reports.
The panels have a lifespan of 30 years, and Brandriet says the property should see a complete return on its investment in six-and-a-half years. “One-fifth or one-sixth of the lifetime of the unit would be pure savings,” he notes. “That was a big factor in our decision.
“So far, it’s working as expected, and it’s pretty low-maintenance,” he says of the system, which was built to withstand hail and other extreme weather conditions that can frequently sweep through the South Dakota plains.
Depending on the results from the panels now on the golf course, which was built in 2009, Brandriet says Elkhorn Ridge might also consider installing additional panels at some point, to also power some of the RV sites on the property.
“Being a better asset to our community and our environment is our main goal,” he says.