As the construction of a large solar project on its land nears completion, St. Olaf College is celebrating the fact that its electrical energy usage will soon be carbon neutral.
St. Olaf is leasing 40 acres of college-owned land to a team of solar developers who are constructing 5 one-megawatt Community Solar Gardens. The college has subscribed to 40 percent of the solar project’s output, the maximum allowable by state law.
As a subscriber, St. Olaf will receive utility bill credits under Xcel Energy’s Community Solar Garden Program. The college’s share of these solar panel arrays is expected to produce 3.372 million kilowatt hours per year.
In addition to the solar project on college land, St. Olaf is subscribing to 21 other community solar gardens in nearby communities including Northfield, Farmington, Rosemount, and Claremont.
The total production attributed to the subscriptions is forecast to be 14,250,000 kilowatt hours, or 102 percent of St. Olaf’s annual purchase. The college’s total consumption of just over 17,060,000 kilowatt hours includes additional power from the college’s self-generating wind turbine.
To further its commitment to green energy, St. Olaf matched its Community Solar Garden subscriptions with a commitment to Xcel Energy’s Windsource program, which draws 100 percent of its energy from Minnesota wind farms.
“We are one of the largest community solar garden subscribers and the largest Windsource customer in the state,” says St. Olaf Assistant Vice President for Facilities Pete Sandberg. “With all of that in play, carbon per student is 47 percent less than it was in 2001. That’s one of the lowest numbers of any campus in the country.”
Berkshire Hathaway Energy is developing the community solar garden located on St. Olaf land in coordination with Minnesota-based Geronimo Energy. The project has transformed the college-owned farmland just north of campus into a sea of solar panels easily visible from Highway 19.
“Our subscriptions and other people’s subscriptions directly fund the construction of new photovoltaic solar gardens,” Sandberg says. “The role we’re playing in bringing more renewable energy resources online is something we can all be proud of.”