Erica Zweifel & Mary Jo Cristofaro

Erica Zweifel (left) and Mary Jo Cristofaro (right), members of the Northfield Area Community Solar board, stand in front of Eastgate community solar garden located off of Highway 19 near Northfield. Beyond educating the public about solar, NACS also helps landowners lease their land to community solar gardens. (Photo courtesy of Mary Jo Cristofaro)

There are more than 5,800 solar installations in Minnesota and by this spring, the new Northfield Community Solar Garden will be added to that growing number.

A soon-to-be-built 1.4 megawatt community solar garden will allow residents in Le Sueur, Blue Earth, Waseca, Steele, Rice, Faribault and Freeborn counties to reap the benefits of solar without having to install their own panels. Residents must be Xcel customers to subscribe to the garden, which will be located in Waseca County.

The garden is being developed by Minnesota-based Novel Energy Solutions, formerly known as Minnesota Community Solar, in partnership with Xcel Energy. They have been joined by community partner Northfield Area Community Solar, a group of area residents raising awareness and providing education about solar energy.

Access to renewable energy such as solar has been increasing. The Minnesota Department of Commerce says the state solar capacity was only at 1 megawatt in 2009, bumping up to 598 megawatts in 2017 and was expected to exceed 1,000 megawatts in 2019. Minnesota could reach 10% solar energy by 2025 at costs comparable to that of natural gas generation, according to a 2018 Solar Potential Analysis Report.

It’s become clear that renewable energy is the direction of the future and investing in solar energy can lower energy bills, support clean energy and combat climate change, NACS Chair Mary Jo Cristofaro said.

The energy captured by the community solar panels is not necessarily the energy pumped into the subscriber’s homes. Instead it goes onto the grid and the subscriber is credited.

Advances in technology have made access to solar energy cheaper than years prior, the average price of installed solar was 70% lower in 2018 than it was just eight years prior. Beyond the savings in money, investing in renewable energy, such as solar, can be an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional energy sources.

People are already seeing the implications of climate change, and while it is true that the global climate has fluctuated throughout Earth’s history, this particular cycle is of concern as many climate scientists have identified the cause as human activity. Thus considerations and changes about how the world produces and consumes energy will be necessary in the fight against climate change.

“For the health of the planet, we need to make that transition to renewable energy because if we burn all of the oil reserves that are in the ground, it’s going to take us far past that 2 degrees Celsius,” Cristofaro said, noting the temperature considered the point when catastrophic climate changes will occur.

Cristofaro highlights that transitioning to renewable energy can make Minnesota more energy independent, and rely less on imports of fossil fuel from other areas.

“Creating a foundation of solar and wind and renewable energy, creates us to be energy independent and resilient,” Cristofaro said. “It’s a win-win for our health and the health of the planet.”

Construction on the community solar garden in Waseca County is set for late spring, with plans to open more community gardens in the area over the next few years. Cristofaro says membership is limited to 150 subscribers, open to homeowners, renters and people who don’t have an optimal spot for their own solar installation. Those interested can sign up by visiting joinsolar.org/northfield. The deadline to apply is Jan. 31.

Reach reporter Ashley Rezachek at 507-444-2376. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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