Kandiyohi Power Cooperative plans solar farm

By Carol Stender

By Carol Stender

Agri News staff writer 


SPICER, Minn. -- West central Minnesota is home to all types of farms and soon it could also have a solar farm.

Kandiyohi Power Cooperative is spearheading an effort that could use power from photovoltaic panels to generate electricity for the Kandiyohi Power cooperative and Willmar Municipal Utilities.


The project is in its early phases, but is an exciting opportunity for the cooperative located between Spicer and Willmar.

It all started with an idea from a colleague, said Kandiyohi Power Cooperative energy management specialist Dan Tepfer.

"She wanted a local energy option she could invest in," he said. "From there we started looking at what were the possibilities of offering a local renewable energy option and searched to see if anyone else was doing it."

Someone is. United Power Cooperative in Brighton, Colo., has a own solar farm that provides only a small portion of the utility's overall power needs, but also offers benefits from its plan. The Colorado co-ops members can take a 25-year lease on a photovoltaic panel, maintained by the cooperative, for $1,050. The customer receives a monthly credit of $3 to $4 in return for the power the panel provides the cooperative's distribution system.

The model is one the Kandiyohi cooperative is using as it develops its own solar farm.

But solar power? In Minnesota? You bet, Tepfer says.

Minnesota gets a consistent amount of sun, even in winter. Two customers on the Kandiyohi system already use solar panels. One customer has a silicone-based panel that captures as much solar power on a clear winter day as it does on a clear summer day.

"The technology of solar panels has advanced a lot," he said. "Even on cloudy days, the solar panels produce electricity."


Kandiyohi Power Cooperative is looking at financial packages that can be used in the solar power development. There are grants and loan possibilities available from the Rural Utilities Services and from the Rural Development grant programs through the USDA, he said. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

While solar panels have their own initial investment, the cooperative would see benefits for its own utility and customers. The cooperative purchases its electricity from Great River Energy, which is the wholesale distributor. The power is distributed through the cooperative's 7,800-customer base in four west central Minnesota counties -- Kandiyohi, Swift, Chippewa and Stearns.

Generating some of its own power through solar panels would mean less money spent paying for electricity traveling through the transmission lines, Tepfer said.

"One of the major drivers of this project is the bad rap rural electric cooperatives have gotten as being opposed to any renewable energy projects," Tepfer said. We want to demonstrate that it can be done at the local level through the utility and the that we can be a partner and we can make it work."

Solar isn't the only part of KPC's renewable energy project.

"We want to tie a conservation efficient component into the project," he said. "The member who wants to invest in this renewable energy project would have an energy audit. We are looking at the possibilities to conserve or reduce energy use and to realize some type of energy conservation goals.

The cooperative is exploring locations for the panels. One location could be at the cooperative's rural offices, Tepfer said. Other possible sites are located in the country.

"Just producing more energy isn't the answer," he said. "It means reducing what we use and finding more efficient ways to use it."

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