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Generating power with the sun

By Staff | Jul 2, 2017

Blue Earth Light and Water plans to start construction on a Community Solar Garden project in July. Many of these types of community gardens, like the one above, are springing up around the country.

While there may not be a community vegetable garden in Blue Earth this summer, there soon will be a community garden of another kind.

And just like the vegetable gardens, this one needs sunlight in order to succeed, as well.

Blue Earth Light and Water (BELW) will soon be constructing a new Community Solar Garden. And, local residents can become a member of this new venture and reap the benefits of solar power without any heavy financial investment.

The new Blue Earth Community Solar Garden will be located on land just to the south of the Seneca Foods warehouse, near the intersection of Highway 169 and Ninth Street, across from the Ag Center entrance.

“We have been planning this project for some time,” says BELW general manager Tim Stoner. “We sent out some information about the project to our customers with their statements earlier this year, and more than 30 responded saying they were interested in possibly participating.”

Stoner explains this is a way for Blue Earth residents to get into solar energy without a big financial investment.

“Instead of installing their own rooftop or backyard solar panels, which can cost as much as $10,000 to $15,000, and take 15 years to pay off, they can get into solar with a low-cost investment,” Stoner explains. “This will be on a community size scale of economy.”

Basically, BELW customers can pay an annual subscription cost of $42.50 to participate in the project. That investment gives them one panel on the 4 kilowatt community solar garden.

One panel investment would create an approximate $3.00 credit on a person’s monthly electric utility bill.

“This means there would be a small loss as far as the annual subscription cost,” Stoner explains. “But it is a way for people to go green and reduce their carbon footprint. Plus, this is just an annual subscription, so they can opt out of the program at the end of any year, if they wish.”

Stoner says they will be able to have as many customers sign up as want to. That is because once the local Community Solar Garden is filled up with subscribers, they will add them to a larger operation near Owatonna.

The additional energy will come from the Lemond Community Solar Project that is being built in collaboration with several other public power municipal utilities who belong to Blue Earth’s joint action agency, Central Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (CMPAS pronounced “compas”).

“Many of our customers have expressed an interest in being involved in renewable energy sources, like wind and solar,” Stoner says. “Our board of directors was very interested in getting some type of solar energy project going, as well. They get this (solar garden) and want to see us do this.”

Stoner says they feel this is a win-win situation.

He explains this is a way for people to get involved in solar energy with a low cost of entry into the production of it and become conscious of reducing their carbon footprint.

And, it is a win for BELW, as they continue their quest to use non-carbon sources of energy projection.

“We are at about 48 percent of our purchased energy needs portfolio coming from carbon-free sources, like hydro-power, nuclear, solar, and wind and our wind amounts are getting larger,” Stoner says. “This is a way to help those who want to invest in solar, but it helps ourselves, too.”

Construction on the new Blue Earth Community Solar Garden is expected to begin soon, around mid-July.

The land where it will be built has been owned by BELW for some time, as it also houses a generator and substation equipment owned by BELW.

The solar panels will be installed by a company called MC Power, and will be “trackable,” meaning they will follow the sun through the day in order to produce more energy.

Persons interested in finding out more about the new Community Solar Garden Project can call the BELW office in Blue Earth at (507) 526-2191.