October 11, 2018 at 2:20 p.m.
The 100MW North Star Solar installation is Minnesota’s largest, and produces enough electricity to power about 20,000 homes. Chisago County is also home to several community solar gardens and installations on private homes and businesses. This event, and The Power of Minnesota film, focused on telling the many stories of the people behind this enormous accomplishment.
Event highlights included:
Michael Noble, Executive Director of Fresh Energy, kicked off the event with a talk about the country’s dramatic shift to a clean energy economy, and the role that Chisago County is playing. He spoke about drastic price reductions in solar, wind, and battery storage that are making this swift transition possible, and the necessity of wringing all of the waste out of our economy by becoming as energy efficient as possible and then powering our lives with clean electricity—including transportation.
The Power of Minnesota film was then screened at the event. It was created to highlight the benefits and successes of solar and wind power projects throughout the state, and to foster community engagement and awareness. The documentary features stories about the many ways in which clean energy is both driven by and supporting Chisago Lakes area landowners, officials, educators, and businesses. It is available to watch at https://powerofmn.com.
The documentary was followed by several local speakers; including Pat Collins, who said, "Our foray into solar energy, which began as a daydream of a bunch of 7th graders, is saving Chisago Lakes Schools between $3-6 million dollars over 30 years,” said Collins, a 7th grade teacher at Chisago Lakes Middle School. “It takes a lot of fundraisers and bake sales to equal that amount. And the much bigger question is what are we really teaching our students? The solar panels on our school roofs teach our students to look ahead, to innovate, to think differently, to see beyond our time, and to be leaders rather than followers".
Chisago Lakes School District has five rooftop solar projects at the high, middle, and primary schools, as well as Taylors Falls and Lakeside elementary schools. They also have a community solar garden subscription. These solar panel systems not only save energy dollars but also provide science learning opportunities for students and help to meet the district’s sustainability goals.
George McMahon, 2018 Chair of the Chisago County Board of Commissioners, talked about how Chisago County is receiving more than $250,000 per year in property tax relief because of solar power, and how the school districts in North Branch and Chisago Lakes are also benefiting from solar energy production tax revenue, amounting to several tens of thousands of dollars a year.
Farmers and other landowners in Chisago County, several of them featured in The Power of Minnesota, now think of solar energy as another crop—one that provides a steady stream of income year after year. “Our 22-acre solar garden produces enough power to support 1,000 homes,” said Ed Eichten, second generation farmer in Chisago County and owner of Eichten’s in rural Center City. “It is reassuring to know that my land produces a profit and clean energy at the same time.”
The event ended with a screening of a new episode of the popular Prairie Sportsman program from Pioneer Public Television about how prairie is being planted under and around large solar arrays in Minnesota to create habitat for local wildlife and pollinators—a practice that’s taking off in Chisago County.
Organizations that provided resource tables: Clean Energy Resource Teams, Chisago Lakes School District, Chisago County, Chisago Lakes Area Chamber, Center for Energy and Environment, Xcel Energy, IPS Solar, All Energy Solar, Minnesota Native Landscapes, and Fresh Energy. The celebrating continued at Chisago Lakes Grill at a gathering featuring Solar Sweet Farm Cider from Milk & Honey Ciders, made using honey from prairie plantings at Minnesota solar farms.
The episode of Prairie Sportsman airs in January 2019.
The event was co-hosted by: Chisago Lakes School District, Chisago County, Chisago Lakes Chamber & Information Center, Chisago Lakes Area Initiative, and the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs).
Minnesota continues to lead the nation in solar and wind energy production. Despite its lengthy, subzero winters, Minnesota has annual solar resources similar to areas of Florida and Texas. After adding 436.8 megawatts in 2017, Minnesota now has a total of 744.4 megawatts of solar energy. Renewable energy made up 25 percent of the state’s electricity generation in 2017, up from 23 percent in 2016 and 21 percent in 2013. At the end of 2017, Minnesota had 94 community solar gardens powering 285,000 homes.