LARAMIE — The Downtown Clinic hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday morning to celebrate the completion of its new solar panel array and battery system, which was funded by a $33,675 grant from Rocky Mountain Power’s Blue Sky customers.
The 25-panel array will offset the clinic’s energy usage by 98 percent, according to a news release. The funds saved by using solar energy will help the clinic provide health care to even more people without access or means to pay for the care themselves.
The Downtown Clinic provides a variety of services, including primary care, dental and vision exams, home-cooked food and prescription medications for those in need.
“We’re in the business to care for people who can’t afford care,” said Pete Gosar, executive director of the Downtown Clinic. “But I think maybe more importantly — or as important — is it says to the people that come in our door that you can be in a technologically advanced place and you’re not always getting the lesser health care. You can be seen by the best providers in a state-of-the-art clinic and get fantastic care.
“Maybe some of the stigma that is associated with free care goes away, and maybe some people will feel like this is a place they can be honest about their health conditions and they feel comfortable coming to.”
According to the news release published by Rocky Mountain Power, the cost savings generated each year by the solar array is equivalent to over 200 prescription medications, 20 eye exams or the cost of 60 primary care visits. The clinic has been open since 1999 and each year provides health care to around 600 individual clients, issues around 5,200 prescription medications, performs 69 full eye exams and more. Last year, its staff helped cure four people of hepatitis C, which has a very expensive treatment regimen.
Part of the grant money from this Blue Sky project was allocated to create the battery connected to the solar array, which provides emergency power to two fridges in the clinic in case of power outage. Gosar said this was vital for the clinic, as those fridges contain sensitive medical supplies like vaccines.
“We were sitting here one morning when the power went out and we heard a ‘click’ and the fridges were off,” Gosar said. “That’s thousands and thousands of dollars sitting in those fridges that need to be between two and eight degrees (Celsius) — if they get past that, you might have to throw it away. So, this is an amazing project for us.”
Eric Concannon, technical sales professional for the company that coordinated and installed the solar array, Creative Energies, explained that the solar energy runs through an inverter inside the clinic. The inverter transfers the direct current (DC) electricity produced by the panels to alternating current (AC) electricity for the building to use, and keeps it synced with the city’s power grid voltage. It also helps transfer the solar power directly to the battery in case the power were to go out. During an outage, the battery, solar panel and fridges are their own little “island” where it’s generating its own power and sustaining itself, ensuring maximum battery lifespan. The battery can last for multiple days or even a week with no sun, depending on the efficiency of the fridges and how often they’re opened.
“Because the solar and the battery are integrated, as soon as the sun comes back up, even if this thing has been drained significantly by the last night worth of refrigerator function, the solar (array) is going to charge the battery right back up again,” Concannon said. “And that’s its only job when there’s a power failure, is to charge the battery. Whereas when the grid is on, its job is to produce electricity that can offset everything they use.”
The solar array is Wyoming’s first Blue Sky battery storage component, but not the first project for the program. Rocky Mountain Power’s Blue Sky initiative has awarded over $10 million across over 140 renewable energy grants to businesses, universities, and clinics all over Utah, Idaho and Wyoming. The program is completely voluntary and any of Rocky Mountain Power’s business or residential customers can join. Customers pay for kilowatt-hour “blocks” of renewable energy. Ten blocks per month usually covers a typical home’s electrical use, according to Blue Sky’s website. Rocky Mountain Power does not profit from the program — it’s separate from what the company buys or generates to serve its customers.
Gosar said he’s close friends with Concannon — he’s the one who originally introduced Gosar to the Blue Sky program and helped set the planning and grant application process in motion last year. They continue to work closely together to monitor the battery life and how much energy the solar array is producing. Soon, Concannon said they will even be able to track the clinic’s usage minute by minute and see when they are producing more power than they’re using, or vice versa. Gosar, a self-identified “huge renewable-energy nerd,” is excited for the future and thankful for the chance to see this project come to fruition.
“I would really like to thank the Rocky Mountain Power Blue Sky rate payers,” Gosar said. “We could have the idea, but we didn’t have the money to do this as a clinic. They did it, and their commitment allows us to provide more care. It might seem that (you’re paying for) just a straight renewable energy project, but you’re helping us pay for healthcare for people who need it. You’re helping build our community.”