- August 6, 2020
- by Corey Orehek
Faribault has seen a reduction in pollution since the installation of solar gardens last fall, and the school district has seen another reduction — in its energy bill. To date, Faribault Public Schools Financial Director Andrew Adams said the district saved approximately $11,300 on energy costs since March.
We looked at other companies, but we felt this was the company we wanted to work with based on the proposal and their reputation.” - Todd Sesker, Superintendant of Faribault Public Shools
To date, Faribault Public Schools Financial Director Andrew Adams said the district saved approximately $11,300 on energy costs since March. Nokomis Energy, the solar garden provider for the district, expects another $17,000 in savings between now and December.
Annually, the district could save between $24,000 and $30,000. The district currently uses six solar gardens, located in Rice, Waseca and Dodge counties, but Nokomis Energy will complete three more by the end of 2020.
After that, Nokomis Energy partner Brendan Dillon said the district could save closer to $40,000 or even $50,000 a year. “That was the number they always wanted to get to because to them, that’s a teacher, or a substantial fraction of a new teacher,” Dillon said. Dillon considers schools like Faribault important partners for solar gardens because, as he said, “When a school has an opportunity to save significantly in electricity … that frees up money for them to spend on education, whether that’s more teachers or better facilities.”
Adams confirmed that the district will take its energy savings into account when budgeting for the 2021-22 school year. “It will go toward maintaining teacher-to-student ratios and maintaining the structure of the classroom as much as possible, Adams said. “ … It could reduce the amount of cuts we need to make next year.
The total energy savings to the district is not dependent on how much the buildings are used, Dillon explained. In Minnesota, Xcel Energy runs the solar garden program and third parties, like Nokomis Energy, develop and construct solar gardens on farmland or unused land in cities. Xcel buys the electricity generated and provides Nokomis Energy with bill credits, or coupons. Nokomis Energy then sells the bill credits back to subscribers, usually schools or commercial businesses. Faribault Public Schools signed up for a number of programs through Nokomis Energy, which charges it a fraction of the coupon value.
On a local level, Dillon said landowners generate more income with solar gardens on their property than they need for taxes, which can benefit them financially during down years of farming. Cost savings aside, the solar gardens displace coal or natural gases with a clean form of energy. Dillon said a typical solar garden in Minnesota offsets the energy usage of 200 to 250 homes.
“We’ve been revealing plans for this for over two years now, and we finally decided to sometime last year make the decision to utilize solar gardens to help save a few dollars,” Superintendent Todd Sesker said. “It’s great environmentally for the school district, and we had that savings. And the relationship [with Nokomis Energy] has been very positive. We looked at other companies, but we felt this was the company we wanted to work with based on the proposal and their reputation.”