by Dennis Dalman
Sartell might soon become home to a solar garden.
At its April 13 meeting, Sartell City Council members expressed a keen interest in the concept, which was presented by two officials of SolarStone, a solar-energy company from Minneapolis.
What’s proposed is a “solar garden” to be constructed on two parcels of land, altogether totaling about 40 acres. One of the tracts is a former city lagoon, the other is a former landfill. Both are considered land not suitable for development, said Sartell City Planner/Developer Anita Rasmussen.
The presenters at the council meeting were Gordy Simanton, vice president of business development for SolarStone; and Joe DeVito, co-founder and CEO of that company.
A “solar garden” is an assembly of solar panels that generate electricity from the sun’s energy. SolarStone installs the panels, and the electricity generated is fed, in this case, to Xcel Energy’s power lines. A solar garden is dependent upon energy subscribers who sign up for a 25-year period. Those who do receive an energy credit on their Xcel Energy bills, an energy savings of up to 10 percent. Subscribers can include businesses, homeowners or the city itself.
SolarStone would lease the land for the panels from the city. Subscribers/customers could live in the county where the solar-garden is located or in any adjacent county to it.
Subscribers would not be liable for any operational or maintenance costs. Those would be borne by SolarStone, DeVito told the council. Tax revenue from the business would go to both the city and the county.
The solar-garden concept started in Colorado years ago. It is part of a rapidly expanding use of solar energy coast to coast, which is dramatically increasing because of a declining cost of solar-panel equipment, Simanton noted.
Some state legislatures, including Minnesota’s, are starting to pass laws mandating a certain percent of all energy must be alternative, non-fossil-fuel sources. A bill now in process in the Minnesota Legislature could mandate 40 percent of the state’s energy must be non-fossil-fuel sources by 2030. Wind energy is another non-fossil source, generating up to 19 percent of Minnesota’s energy, according to Simanton. At this point, only 1.5 percent of Xcel Energy’s energy is derived from solar power.
Solar panels on five acres of land can produce up to 1 megawatt of electricity.
Council member Steve Hennes called the solar-garden proposal a “win-win” for everybody, including the city. Other council members also seemed warm to the idea. They agreed to form a subcommittee to enter negotiations with SolarStone for a potential deal. Council members Pat Lynch and Amy Braig-Lindstrom agreed to be council representatives on the committee.