Solar panels pop up in Northfield

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Solar panels pop up in Northfield

January 9, 2017

Northfield has a new way of contributing to renewable energy, as solar panels have risen from the ground on St. Olaf land in the northwest corner of the city.

The panels, which are on land leased by St. Olaf, make up five community solar gardens, as defined by Xcel Energy, and in all, produce 5 megawatts (5,000 kilowatts) of power. The site is owned and operated by BHE Renewables, which purchased it from the original developer, Geronimo Energy.

The power from the gardens is purchased by Xcel Energy and added into the company's overall power grid. To support the construction and operation of the gardens, organizations and/or residents subscribe to them. Those entities and people still buy their power regularly through Xcel, but they get credit on their power bill for the investment in community gardens.

The credit any one entity receives depends on the amount in which it subscribes. St. Olaf is subscribing to 40 percent of the new Northfield gardens. The college uses about 14,000 megawatt hours (14 million kilowatt) to power its campus, according to Assistant Vice President for Facilities Pete Sandberg, so 40 percent of the 5 megawatt Northfield solar gardens doesn't represent much of the campus's output.

Yet, the college aims to subscribe to the same amount of renewable energy as it buys. That's where the 19 other subscriptions to solar garden sites come in. According to Sandberg, St. Olaf subscribes to about 14,000 megawatt hours in all — just short of the amount of power it buys.

"It’s pretty much cost neutral," Sandberg said. "Over the long haul, we end up coming out a little ahead, but it’s not anything you do to make a fortune or anything like that. For me, if you can work through all this, and end up bringing new generation on line and buying carbon-free power, then that’s a thing you should do."

Subscribing to solar power does not ensure the purchasing of carbon-free power in itself. However, the college's recent decision to utilize Xcel's Windsource program does ensure the campus will run carbon-free electric. The program allows residential and commercial customers in Minnesota to directly and specifically purchase Xcel’s wind power.

SOURCE:  Northfield

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