by: Jared Hendricks, Marketing/Energy Conservation Officer
Days are getting longer, the sun is getting higher, and A/C units are kicking in, which means it’s a great time to talk about solar energy. You will see that we have highlighted our solar rebates on the front of the newsletter this month. Make sure to look into our rebates if you are exploring the opportunity to add either solar electricity or solar hot water systems to your home. As of this writing, OPU has rebated 4 rooftop solar electric arrays installed in Owatonna since 2013 and is currently working towards a 5th.
Rooftop installations will continue to grow in Owatonna as costs decline, but they will not be the only solar installations we will see in the community. Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (SMMPA), OPU’s wholesale power provider, is working with Coronal Development Services to build the Lemond Solar Center, a 5 megawatt solar array and the first solar generation in SMMPA’s portfolio. SMMPA will purchase electricity generated by the system over the next 20 years.
Although SMMPA does not have a solar mandate, they are taking this first step into solar generation. SMMPA already has a broad mix of generation, including extensive wind resources, but the addition of solar will help broaden it even further. As an agency providing power for municipal utilities, SMMPA is also listening to the desires of the 18 member communities. With some customers and member communities expressing the desire to have solar generation, SMMPA is being responsive to that even without mandates. The system will provide renewable energy benefits to not only Owatonna, but the other communities as well.
The Lemond Solar Center will be located just west of 39th Ave on about 40 acres of land, averaging 8 acres per megawatt. Though this seems like a substantial amount of land, it is less the average of 8.9 acres per megawatt for this type of system (National Renewable Energy Laboratory Study). Panels will be pole mounted and track the suns east to west movement during the day, allowing more energy production than traditional fixed panels. To put the energy produced by the system into perspective, it will produce the annual energy needs of nearly 1000 homes.
The system will start producing power in June 2017 and will be tied directly into OPU’s west substation. To prepare for the installation, you will see OPU crews working on installing distribution lines to move the energy from the Center to the substation this summer. Some of the initial ground work will likely be performed by Coronal this year before winter arrives. The actual construction of the Lemond Solar Center will begin during the spring of 2017.