ISLAND SUN ... Local country club embraces solar power

Michael Jacobs
SHEDDING LIGHT … Among those instrumental in the conversion to solar power at The Island Country Club were Klein Kirby, Vice Chairman of A.Wilbert’s Sons; John M. Higdon, Chairman of A.Wilbert’s Sons and Glen Clouatre, General Manager of The Island.

A project recently completed by The Island Country Club has shed a little – actually, plenty – of light on environmental awareness.

  The country club, owned by A. Wilbert’s Sons, L.L.C. recently converted to solar power for a portion of its energy needs.

  “Wilbert’s has always tried to be good stewards of their property and the environment,” said Klein Kirby, Vice Chairman of A. Wilbert’s Sons. “Our application of solar technology will help offset today’s rising energy prices and stabilize or further reduce the operating costs for the Country Club.”

  This is the single largest solar installation in Louisiana by the Baton Rouge-based Gulf South Solar.   The system is capable of generating 31,680 watts of DC power. It utilizes 160 solar panels that cover a 25 foot by 100 foot area of the cart barn roof, according to Glen Clouatre, General Manager of The Island.

  The system will provide power for the Main Clubhouse, the Tennis and Swimming Clubhouse, the Pool Complex, the Golf Shop, and the Cart Barn. “By design, it is estimated to reduce the Country Club’s utility bills by 15 to 25 percent,” Clouatre said.   “We feel that this is a realistic expectation, “he said. “As the utility rates change, your savings change. The raw energy source, sunlight is free – it’s a natural resource.”

  The typical life expectancy of the solar panels exceeds 25 years.  The panels are guaranteed to produce 95 percent of the power after 25 years of service that they would produce when brand new, Kirby said. “It’s a lengthy life expectancy,” he said.

  The wheels on the solar project started turning in March of this year. The impending expiration of a federal tax incentive for installation of alternative energy-based projects prompted Wilbert’s to kick off a solar power study.

“The results of the study indicated that a solar power installation would be a good fit for us,” Kirby said. “It’s a significant project for Wilbert’s and one that’s very good for the environment.”

  The project enables The Island to simultaneously trim costs and enhance environmental quality. “It’s also a good way to enable us to maintain and improve the quality of the Country Club while energy prices escalate,” said Johnny Higdon, Chairman of A. Wilbert’s Sons, L.L.C.

  The solar panels proved their durability during Hurricane Gustav. All of the panels remained intact amid winds that sometimes exceeded 100 miles per hour, Kirby said. “There was no damage to the solar components whatsoever,” he said

  The “Heart” of the system is a pair of 15 kilowatt inverters. The inverters convert DC power from the solar panels into AC power that can be utilized throughout the Clubhouse. “It produces the alternating current for lighting, appliances, the HVAC systems, computers, and so on,” Kirby said. The system will produce “clean power”, which is necessary for today’s sensitive electronics.

  The solar energy system at The Island has generated the attention of the National Solar Tour, which will make a stop at The Island on Saturday, October 4, 2008. Persons interested in this or other solar installations are invited to attend. Representatives from Gulf South Solar will be at the event to answer questions about the project.

  In addition to the solar installation, The Island has changed all lighting to energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs, installed timers on non-essential outdoor lighting and is using programmable HVAC thermostats throughout the Clubhouse. “We are exploring every form of energy savings we can find,” Clouatre said. “Energy is not getting any cheaper.”  The Island welcomes questions about the solar installation.

  A. Wilbert’s Sons, L.L.C. will continue to look at renewable and alternative energy technology in the future. Kirby said he hopes to see the alternative energy initiative spread throughout the area. “If it can work for us, I’m sure it could work for others as well,” he said. “It just makes sense.”