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Solar energy tour includes 50 Minnesota buildings

Minnesota Renewable Energy Society

Two Northland homes and three other buildings will be part of a national alternative energy tour Saturday expected to draw more than 150,000 people to more than 5,000 sites.

It's part of the 14th annual American Solar Energy Society's National Solar Tour, sponsored here by the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society.

The self-guided tour is free and open to anyone, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

About 50 homes in Minnesota will show off passive solar heating, solar-powered hot water, geothermal heating, wind power and more.

A list of homes and institutions, directions and lists of each building's alternative energy infrastructure are available at

Organizers say the event is aimed at showing how alternative energy systems have been installed and are working to cut energy use, reduce carbon pollution and slash energy costs for homes, businesses and institutions across Minnesota.

In the Northland, the Boettcher home outside Duluth is featured for its solar heating system; Hartley Nature Center in Duluth for its photovoltaic solar electric system, passive solar heating and ground source heat pump; the Audubon Center of the Northwoods near Sandstone for its large electric power system with solar trackers, geothermal heat pumps and wind generator; the North House Folk School in Grand Marais for its roof-mounted solar system for heat and hot water; and the Ringer home in Brimson for its geothermal, solar hot water and wind energy systems.

"Alternative energy is such an important thing right now. People hear about it ... and now they can see how it works in a real setting,'' said Al Ringer.

The Ringers had a wind generator in the 1970s that eventually failed. They jumped back in to alternative energy over the past two years.

"You have to evaluate if it's worth the investment. Things like solar thermal [hot water] have a quick payback. Geothermal is six or seven years. ... And the wind turbine is even longer," he said. "But we're looking long-term, what electrical costs will be down the road."

Many of the contractors and suppliers are based in the Northland, while rebates and tax credits are reducing the payback time for many systems.

"The state has $3.4 million for solar energy rebates" available, Stacy Miller of the Minnesota Office of Energy Security said in a statement. "Minnesotans who install solar energy systems may also be eligible for federal and utility incentives.''