Solar Sisters

Best Power President Dwight Jelle (left) speaks with U.S. Rep. Tim Walz while touring the School Sisters of Notre Dame solar farm in Mankato. Photo by Darren Gibbins

MANKATO — Solar energy is “economically smart and environmentally sound,” Congressman Tim Walz said while taking a look at the solar farm on property owned by the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

The 849-kilowatt project, which began operating in October, has 2,784 panels, each 15 square feet.

After years of needing tax credits and incentives to make solar power financially viable, solar now costs just above or the same as other fuels.

“People are going to go where the market goes,” said Walz, D-Mankato. “Solar is on parity with other forms of energy.”

About half of the $1.7 million price tag for this project was covered by a grant from Xcel Energy, which buys the power generated, and about 30 percent was paid for using a renewable tax credit.

Adding solar power in local projects meets many goals, Walz said, including reduction of carbon emissions, employment of local contractors and utilization of less oil, which cuts dependence on foreign oil, a national security issue.

For the School Sisters, the project fits into its mission of seeking the best use of natural resources.

“It’s a great way for the sisters to manifest their ministries of education and leaving the world a better place than they found it by reducing their carbon footprint,” said Mike Lagerquist, communications manager with the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

The company that owns the panels, Best Power International of Arkansaw, Wisconsin, estimated the annual average production would be 1 million kilowatt hours based on weather history.

President Dwight Jelle said October, November and January exceeded expectations, while February has been on target and December was below expectations because of the cloudy weather.

“Typically, the worse month is going to be December,” he said. “Last Monday was the best so far. Our best month will be in April, when we have sunny, longer days but it’s still cool.”

Cooler weather makes solar panels more efficient, a boon to solar gardens and solar farms in Minnesota.

“Cold is better,” Jelle said. “Negative 20 is great.”

Walz agreed to visit the solar farm after Sister Alice Zachmann was his guest for the speech Pope Francis made to Congress in September.

“In this case, the sisters have a mission and they will be an example of what’s possible,” Walz said.

Follow Nancy Madsen on Twitter @nmadsenmfp.

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