Back to the Nov-Dec 2021 issue

What Recent Clean Energy Project Has Your City Done?

Guy SwensonGUY SWENSON
TELEPHONE, ELECTRIC, AND CABLE MANAGER
BARNESVILLE (POPULATION 2,759)

The City of Barnesville has a regional reputation for being very progressive, attracting many young families to the community. With a proven history of embracing new and innovative ideas and technologies, building a community solar garden was a logical next step in Barnesville Municipal Utilities’ focus on clean energy.

Planning for solar

For two years, city staff researched the possibility of constructing a solar array. We spoke with other communities that have built solar gardens, as well as qualified contractors and Missouri River Energy Services, the city’s energy supplier.

An underused city-owned property near our community garden was identified for the solar garden location. The solar garden was completed in 2018, with the installation of 80 solar panels at a cost of just over $60,000. A CERTs (Clean Energy Resource Teams) Seed Grant of $5,000 helped offset the cost of the panels and installation. Each solar panel produces up to 495 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy annually for a total of 39,600 kWh of energy.

Opportunity for residents

Barnesville Municipal Utilities customers have the opportunity to purchase the output from one or more panels for a 20-year period. While the energy created does not directly power the customer’s home, they receive an annual credit on their electric bill based on the output of the system.

Over the past three years, the average annual credit per panel has been $50. In addition, customers are informed of the federal tax credit that may be available on their federal return.

Initially we thought people would be interested in purchasing solar panels as soon as they were made available. This has not been the case. Currently, only 11 of the 80 panels have been sold. Unlike many utilities, Barnesville Municipal Utilities decided not to subsidize the cost of the panels, making the purchase of the panels less attractive from a simple cash flow perspective.

Benefits to the city

Regardless of the slower-than-expected sales, Barnesville Municipal Utilities is pleased to have constructed the solar garden and, in fact, is planning to add more panels. Solar is environmentally friendly, and energy is still generated by the unsold panels, which goes onto the grid, offsetting the city’s energy costs.

From a marketing perspective, the solar garden stands as a visual amenity, positioning Barnesville as a progressive small community.

 

Jason LudwigsonJASON LUDWIGSON
SUSTAINABILITY COORDINATOR
LA CRESCENT (POPULATION 5,276)

As a participant in the Minnesota GreenStep Cities program, the City of La Crescent has done a lot of work to increase clean energy use, including installing solar electric arrays and subscribing to a community solar garden. One of our more recent clean energy projects was installing two electric vehicle chargers.

High-traffic location

The chargers, installed last December, are the first ones to offer public electric vehicle charging in Houston County. Our traffic counts through the area are among the highest in Southeast Minnesota, and we’ve put the chargers where people will be — at our new convention center and hotel.

The new chargers are intended to promote and encourage electric vehicle use. The benefits to residents include not only free charging, but also reduced emissions and better air quality from the use of electric vehicles. The chargers also promote tourism.

Level 1 chargers deliver 3 to 5 miles of range per hour during electric vehicle charging, and a level 2 charger delivers 12 to 60 miles of range. La Crescent selected a higher 48 amperage model charger to supply electricity at the higher end of the level 2 charging range. The charging depends on the battery size in the car and whether the car is a plug-in hybrid or full electric vehicle. So, the time to a full charge is a different calculation depending on the vehicle.

Paying for the chargers

The city decided it would offer the vehicle charging to the public at no cost. The available options for collecting payments — such as subscribing to a charging network that can accept and process credit card payments — were expected to be several times more than the anticipated cost of the electricity.

A Seed Grant from Clean Energy Resource Teams provided $3,030, which covered the labor to install the charger. That brought the city cost down to around $7,000 for the equipment.

A worthwhile investment

La Crescent leaders believe the cost was worth the investment. Planning ahead is much easier than trying to install infrastructure after the fact, and electric vehicles are the future.

La Crescent is now part of a developing network of electric vehicle charging stations, so people can feel comfortable and confident that if they have an electric vehicle, they will have reliable and accessible places to charge it.