Alternative energy and conservation at the Island Golf Club

New energy resources improve the bottom line

David McCallum, superintendent
Island Golf Club, Plaquemine, La.
Publication date: January 2010

The Island Golf ClubThe Island is a privately owned 18-hole championship course located near Baton Rouge, La., within the Iberville Parish. It’s part of Louisiana’s Audubon Golf Trail. Located on a 400-acre residential and recreational development, the golf course is 7,010 yards from the professional tees and includes 160 acres of Tif-Eagle grass and nine man-made lakes. The main clubhouse and associated veranda cover 8,000 square feet and incorporates a restaurant, banquet hall and conference facilities.

Other features and structures at the club include the golf shop, cart barn, maintenance shop, swimming pool, and tennis courts. All operations at the Island require a significant budget. For many golf facilities, efficient and economical operations at the club are important.

Improving the bottom line

The Island underwent significant review, analysis, and implementation processes to cut costs and improve efficiencies. Most of the low-hanging fruit within our operations was targeted and improved. One key area that stood out was our electricity use; specifically our use of demand charges. Our average electricity cost for non-demand use was $.09-$.12 per kilowatt hour (kWh). Demand periods cost $5.12 per kWh as supplied by the municipal utility. We attempted to analyze our energy use and limit high consumption activities during the demand charge period. We soon learned that this was a difficult and challenging process. In January 2008, Klein Kirby, chairman of A. Wilbert's Sons (our parent company), began oversight of the course. We then embarked upon an investigation to implement alternative energy resources at the Island.

Investigating alternative resources

We contacted Gulf South Solar, a local solar energy company, to review our needs and make recommendations based on their assessment. Gulf South Solar is nationally recognized for solar installation projects including the Green Rebuilding of New Orleans project funded in part by Brad Pitt. With Gulf South Solar’s help we initially focused on two projects:

  • Installing solar panels on the cart barn. These panels would power the cart barn, the main clubhouse, the golf shop, as well as the tennis and pool clubhouse.
  • Installing a geothermal unit for the main clubhouse. This installation would include a second solar unit for the groundwater pump.

Please note: The first phase of this installation did not include our maintenance facility and irrigation system.

Construction and implementation

The solar module installation project began in August 2008 and was completed in October 2008. The main solar project consisted of a solid (or fixed) solar array configured to produce up to 31,680 watts. The modules installed have a 25 year power output warranty. They will provide a minimum 95% production as compared to new cells during this period. The modules are capable of generating energy at a reduced rate during periods of cloud cover. Three power inverters were installed. System implementations can vary. An alternative energy resource, such as solar modules or wind generators, may be connected to a facility’s power grid or it can stand-alone. For days when insufficient power is generated, some systems have a backup battery that can be charged by a solar array. Our system is connected to the grid and does not have a battery system. Grid connects also vary. Connections depend on the type of system, utility provider, insurance company, and any city and state regulations. At the Island, modules are connected to inverters that provide energy to our facilities. The city installed backflow meters to measure the energy generated by our system. Energy not used is measured through these meters and our electric bill is credited accordingly. During our first year we did not generate many credits due to weather, but expect to next year with the energy demands associated with the weather change.

Monitoring energy

The Island uses a solar online monitoring system from Solrenview. We can monitor the energy generated on our course daily and throughout the life cycle of the system.

We can also monitor the carbon dioxide (CO2) emission offset. As of Nov. 15, 2009, our system generated more than 50,000 kWh with more than 63,000 pounds of CO2 emission offset. This equates to an emission offset rate of 1.25 pounds of CO2 per kWh. The second solar system includes 14 solar modules. The system powers the ground water pump for the new geothermal unit at the main clubhouse. It is mounted on the ground, utilizes one inverter, and has a power capacity of 2,772 watts (it is a 3 kW system). As of November 2009, more than 29,000 kWh have been generated since its launch with a CO2 offset of 3,745 pounds. The system came online in March 2009, and does not have a battery backup system. The water pumped is used for the main clubhouse’s geothermal unit. Any excess water is directed to one of the irrigation lakes. We removed a fountain and incorporated a second solar system with our geothermal project. The main clubhouse had an air conditioning system equivalent to approximately 35 tons. This geothermal system uses the groundwater to both heat and cool the main clubhouse. Geothermal units utilize a system that incorporates the constant temperature of the earth in lieu of the air temperature. Water that is either pumped from the ground or cycled underground below the frost line is maintained at a constant temperature.

Three components are generally involved consisting of piping into the ground, heat exchange unit (heat pump) and air flow unit. This allows for the exchange of warmer temperatures within the facility during cold days and cooler temperatures in the facility during warmer days.

The life expectancy for the unit above ground can be up to 10-years and below ground almost 50-years. Efficiency and effectiveness of a geothermal system depends in-part upon location, climate, etc. This unit was a good choice for The Island.

The geothermal and solar projects are a significant change for The Island and are intended to improve the “bottom line” as well as provide for environmental stewardship.

As of November 2009 there has been an estimated 54% reduction in utility costs at the club house. That is approximately $5,000 per month. The investment for these projects was approximately $252,000 for the solar projects and $90,000 for the geothermal unit project.

Many tax incentives exist for alternative projects like these. We were able to use a federal tax incentive of 30% for both projects.

The allowed depreciation period for these units is approximately 5-years as well. These incentives help with the projects.

The projected return on investment (ROI) for these projects is less than eight years years for the solar project and six years for the geothermal unit. The ROI for an alternative energy project will depend upon many factors such as location, climate, technology used etc.

Communications with the golfers was important for these projects. During construction we received lots of questions and everyone was supportive of the projects. The solar panels located on the cart barn roof are really out of view – it was a perfect location with the correct pitch etc. In addition, the systems were tested during a hurricane and we had no issues occur, an important aspect for performance and communications. Other outreach efforts involve tours to the golf course to see the systems in place. The Island was a stop on the American Solar Energy Society’s National Solar Tour in 2008. These projects are a significant improvement at The Island. We will explore options for the maintenance building, but energy use is low for that facility and it will depend upon the ROI for that project.

In addition, there are four other wells that we can review. Golf facilities should explore their options for alternative energy, energy conservation etc., because some environmental stewardship efforts can improve the bottom line as well.

Learn more about the Island Golf Club.