So instead, she spent the money on a towering solar installation on her Lake Brophy property.
“I’m just really sad the environment is changing as fast as it is,” she said. “I’m worried about people who will be living in 50 years.”
On Thursday, she invited friends, fellow environmentalists and local officials to the official unveiling of three enormous panels that can adjust seasonally to the angle of the sun. It will be the first residential solar installation in the 100 square miles served by Alexandria Light and Power, said the utility’s general manager, Al Crowser.
While some homeowners might use solar panels in a limited way, this is the first time a home is connecting solar power to the grid, he said. That means that if Johnson generates more electricity than she uses, the utility will pay her the end of the month. The only other solar customer on its grid is a commercial one, Alexandria Technical and Community College.
Johnson’s two-story, 5,000-square foot home is completely powered by electricity and is heated by an electricity-powered geothermal source. Johnson was disappointed that the geothermal system demanded so much electricity, so she wanted to offset that usage with renewable.
The panels will supply more than enough power for the average home, said Jeff Brandt, an executive with Sebeka, Minn.-based Zenergy LLC, which installed the panels.
Paying $54,000 for solar panels may seem steep, but tax credits will bring her total cost down to about $38,000, which will pay for itself in about 20 years, Johnson said.
Johnson expects the panels to meet about 60 percent of her energy needs throughout the year. Since 40 percent of Alexandria Light and Power’s energy comes from renewable resources such as wind, solar and hydro, she figures that makes her home’s energy supply 100 percent renewable.
Her family’s environmental record will soon get even stronger. Her mom, Jeanne Johnson, who lives with her, has ordered a Tesla electric car “from St. Elon of Musk,” as she jokingly calls Tesla manufacturer Elon Musk. With that in mind, their home was designed with a charging port in the garage.
Erika Johnson’s twin sister, Sandra, a family practice doctor, said the family has always tried to live responsibly.
“We’ve been recycling since we were first able to,” she said. “We’ve been energy conservationists for a long time. We all have Priuses. Pri-i?”
Well, except for Erika Johnson, who requires a four-wheel drive vehicle to get to the hospital during emergencies. When she retires, she says, she will trade her vehicle for something more eco-friendly.
She was devastated by the United States’ decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord. Climate change, she says, is worrisome.
“I want to do everything I can to slow it down,” she said.
For those reluctant to drop big dollars on a solar installation, Alexandria Light and Power offers the opportunity to buy renewable power for as little as $2 a month, Crowser said at Thursday’s gathering.
Called Green Choices, the program allows customers to buy a 100 kilowatts-per-hour block of energy at that price. The average home uses 10,000 to 11,000 kilowatts-per-hour each year.
Or, homeowners can choose completely renewable energy sources for 2 cents per kilowatt hour.
Also, Runestone Electric Association is offering its customers Phase II of a solar energy option, said Ryan Rooney, the association’s manager of business development and energy management. Phase I sold out. Instead of putting solar panels on their homes, customers were able to buy into the utility’s solar installation.
Solar farms are also planned for Osakis, County Commissioner Jim Stratton told those gathered.
“We are working on green aspects and opportunities throughout the county, so get on board,” he said.