by Logan Gruber
At the Dec. 7 St. Joseph City Council meeting, a representative from a solar power company pitched the council on the idea of creating the city’s own solar garden.
SunShare representative Kyle Roach explained a solar garden is a way for homeowners and businesses to access solar energy without having to put solar panels on their rooftops.
Currently, a three-megawatt solar facility, comprised of many fixed-in-place solar panels, is expected to be built two miles north of Cold Spring in 2016 by SunShare, a solar company based in Colorado. Three megawatts is enough to supply 600 households with electricity for day-to-day needs. One megawatt is equivalent to one million watts of electricity.
The city council had previously agreed to move forward with a non-binding letter of intent to reserve space in the Cold Spring-area solar garden, but now the city is also considering creating its own.
SunShare has contracted with Xcel Energy to build its solar gardens. The solar panels will convert energy from the sun into electricity in the panels, and that electricity then flows to Xcel substations. Xcel customers can sign an agreement with Xcel to get some of its energy from the solar source and then get a bill credit for doing so, a savings of about 5 percent on a customer’s monthly bills.
The city uses about 525 kilowatt hours per year. Contracting to receive some electricity from solar power could save the city $393,600-$435,000 throughout the course of a 25-year contract. Building a solar garden in St. Joseph would also net the city money from a lease agreement with SunShare.
The garden the city is considering could possibly be built on land near the water-treatment facility, which is on Frontage Road and Kelp Road, just south of I-94. Also currently on the land is the archery range, which may need to be rearranged, but not removed from the parcel according to Roach. This garden would generate about 1 megawatt.
The solar garden panels are made of very hard glass made to withstand hail storms, other nasty weather and arrows too, Roach joked. They will be installed in long rows in a fenced-in, secure area. Silicone reactors inside the panels collect the energy from the sun, turning it into electricity and then a wire system sends the electricity to power substations.
The city signed another non-binding letter of intent to subscribe to the Cold Spring solar garden within the next 45 days, and then, if the city moves forward with building its own garden, shifting the subscription to the St. Joseph solar garden.
To learn more about SunShare, visit its website at www.mysunshare.com.
Author: Logan Gruber
Gruber is a reporter for the Newsleaders. He grew up in Melrose, MN, attended St. John’s University, spent over a year teaching English in China, and most recently worked as the morning producer at WDIO-TV in Duluth, where he won a 2014 Upper Midwest Emmy for daytime newscasts. He enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with his wife, Jeni, and newborn daughter, Lucy, at their home in Sartell. To learn more about Gruber, head to about.me/logangruber