Letter: Community bankers know a good deal — solar energy

Bankers understand finance, money and good investments. So, when community banks step up to install solar energy panels on their buildings, that’s a strong signal that renewable energy is both good for business and good for the environment. Solar energy is accelerating in the Great Plains as the technology keeps improving, the economics are better and environmental quality benefits are valued.

Take a look at Starion Bank, which just installed 93 new rooftop solar panels at its main location on Fourth Street in Bismarck. That increases Starion Bank’s total solar panels to 296 at three banking locations.

“We’re proud of our solar energy use,” says Starion Bank CEO Craig Larson. “We’re a family-owned business and have been for 50 years. And one of our responsibilities from day one has been making communities better places.”

Starion Bank is going all in on solar – it also bought 60 of the 320 panels at Cass County Electric Cooperative’s Prairie Sun Community Solar, making Starion the largest investor in North Dakota’s first active community solar garden. Craig Larson describes this solar investment as a deal too good to pass up.

Everyone who buys into a community solar array sees their utility bill credited for the amount of electricity these panels generate. It’s a good investment for people who can’t easily install rooftop panels on their homes and offices.

Solar energy is most available on hot, sunny days when peak demand occurs as air conditioners load is high and commercial electricity rates spike. More businesses are now looking to install solar energy on their buildings both to avoid high utility rates and to advance environmental values.

Starion Bank’s solar initiative is combined with energy efficiency upgrades at its buildings with new insulation, HVAC systems and LED lighting. In the first nine months, Starion is using 70% less energy at its Bismarck North Branch alone.

Solar energy is taking off at Iowa community banks, too. Decorah Bank & Trust added its first solar panel in 2008 and has installed enough building rooftop and parking canopy solar arrays at its Decorah and Cresco banks to power almost 20 entire Iowa households. Decorah Bank & Trust has also designed loan programs that often cover 100% of small business, residential and farm renewable energy projects.

“The climate crisis forces you to take some action and seize opportunities,” says Decorah Bank CEO Ben Grimstad. “In the case of the bank, the opportunity is to encourage people to develop renewable energy – and we’ll loan you the money to do it.”

Eight of Peoples Bank’s nine locations in Iowa are likewise equipped with rooftop solar panels that provide 70% to 90% of the bank’s energy. The Clive, Waukee and Adel sites also have electric vehicle charging stations that are free for their customers and staff. That’s a smart marketing tool to attract customers with EVs to come over to these banks to do business.

These community bankers are savvy and sensible. They’re investing in solar energy generation that’s good for their banks’ bottom line, good for the environment and good for the community.

Leave it to bankers to recognize the economic benefits and customer service value of solar energy. They’re making a smart investment when they see one.

This letter to the editor was originally published in the Bismarck Tribune on December 15, 2019.

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