New solar array would cut electricity bills
St. Joseph Catholic Church in Rosemount will be getting more energy from the heavens above by next week.
Novel Energy Solutions installed 3,528 panels on 5-acres near the church last month, which will to generate about 1 megawatt of electricity daily. It’s “enough to provide electricity for 150 homes,” Novel Energy Solutions Vice President of Business Development Ralph Kaehler said.
One megawatt will produce approximately 1.25 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually.
About three years ago, a member of the church suggested they contact Novel Energy Solutions about a potential partnership.
“We did our due diligence to see if it made sense,” Parish Director Randy Haney said. “We have the room. It takes up five acres of our property but we have 29 acres here. We weren’t using the land anyway. ... There’s a lot of things we couldn’t understand, but the Lord new, that’s how we ended up where we are. I’ve been very blessed to be with so many good people. It took a lot of smart people to make this happen.”
Novel Energy Solutions leases the land and sells the energy generated from the solar array to St. Joseph.
“It’s a lot less that we would be paying for through Xcel,” Haney said. “Our conservative estimate is that we would save between $15,000 and $20,000 a year.”
The electricity St. Joseph doesn’t use will be sold to Xcel Energy.
St. Joseph has the option to buy the solar array after seven years, up to 20, and assume responsibility for it. If they don’t purchase it, Novel Energy Solutions will remove it after 20 years.
“The panels are designed to last more than 25 years, so we’ll make that decision when we get closer to that time period,” Haney said.
Kaehler said the panels should continue to produce for the next 40 to 50 years.
“We took a piece of property that was just having a cost in paying taxes, not generating anything, to providing a reduced operating cost for the school and church,” Kaehler said.
While it comes with some financial savings, the move has moral implications.
Pope Francis issued a landmark teaching document on climate change in 2015 called “Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home,” which was the first encyclical to be dedicated to the environment.
“We want to be protecting our common home and be good stewards of the environment,” Haney said.
The document urged people to take “swift and unified global action” to care for the natural world.
“Our thing is, we’re not saying to kick fossil fuel out, but we can’t use fossil fuel like we have in the past if we want to leave a good world for the next generation,” Kaehler said. “I think most people have come to accept that as a fact.”
It’s also a learning opportunity for the students at St. Joseph.
“Who knows?” Haney said “Maybe it will turn a student on to get more involved in ecology.”
The array can be tracked online.
“We’ll be able to show real time production and cumulative production,” Kaehler said. “It shows the carbon offset and the equivalent number of trees planted.”
Minnesota may seem like an unlikely place to get adequate sunshine especially during a snowy, cold winter, but it works.
It’s all about the sun. The cold is just fine for the solar panels. The panels are at a 45 degree angle.
“Once a little light gets on them, the snow dissipates quickly,” Haney said.
Minnesota is at the same latitude as Germany, the biggest solar producer in Europe.
They are about 50 percent more efficient in the summer because the sun is up longer, but overall the energy from the panels is “very predictable over time,” Kaehler said. “It’s still producing in cloudy weather. It’s all about the number of rays hitting the panels. When snow is on it, it will still produce, but at a lower rate.”
Kaehler said “out in rural communities, electricity is our new crop. Instead of corn and soybeans, farmers can use their land to produce electricity. The return is like 300-400 percent more for the farmer. We produce and use all the electricity at home, versus importing the electricity, and export corn and soybeans, and we reduce the need for fossil fuel; so we are helping the environment and saving and making money – so it is sustainable for the long term.”
St. Joseph gave up some greenspace to install the panels.
“Some people weren’t happy because they aren’t seeing all that green area anymore, but this helps us be able to sustain what we’re doing here,” Haney said. “We’re planning on putting up some more trees along the edge this spring to help with the view. It’s fenced in to help protect it.”
There is an 80-foot easement in the middle of the array, but Haney said they can use the space for a community garden.
“We just can’t put a permanent structure over that easement,” Haney said. “But, people really use that garden. The Dakota County Master Gardeners go in to plant flowers. We have some parishioners who grow things. They were able to donate 2,000 pounds of produce from there.”