- January 1, 2021
- by Corey Orehek
Rita Carver, who lives east of Faribault, wanted her crop land to serve a purpose for future generations. The property, which once produced corn and beans, has been in Carver’s family for about 60 years. Even though the land of about 20 acres no longer yields crops, she found a practical way to repurpose the land for the benefit of not only her family but for the climate. The answer, she found, was solar energy gardens.
“...We were so well-satisfied with the first one we did another one, so now we have two on our land,” - Rita Carver, Landowner of 2 Nokomis Solar Gardens
“We received a letter from Nokomis Energy and our family talked it over and decided to call them, and they came down and explained everything to us,” Carver said. “It sounded like something very interesting to do.”
In Minnesota, Xcel Energy runs the solar garden program and third parties, like Nokomis Energy, develop and construct solar gardens on farm land or unused land in cities. Xcel buys the electricity generated and provides Nokomis Energy with bill credits, or coupons. Nokomis then sells the bill credits to solar garden subscribers, like businesses and residents, and uses the subscription fees to pay the landowner.
Nokomis worked with Carver to ensure the proper location for the first solar garden, which the company placed two years ago. Once placed, it connects to Xcel Energy’s grid, producing two megawatts of energy that goes into the city of Faribault’s electrical grid.
Corey Orehek of Nokomis Energy said Carver’s family was one of Nokomis’ first landowners in Rice County. Both Carver and her daughter, Sue Welsey, are subscribers to their own garden. As Xcel Energy customers, they can sign up on the same or adjacent property and receive 10% off their energy bill.
Two other landowners in and around Faribault proper have offered their land for solar energy gardens, Orehek said, and there are six total community solar gardens in the area. Subscribers include Faribault Public Schools, Shattuck-St. Mary’s and the city of Farmington.
“The difference in this case is Rita and the Carver family are being a landowner host, as well as being a subscriber, and their choice to use their land to generate clean energy not only benefits the Carver family but also subscribers: manufacturing companies, schools, cities and other residents,” Orehek said.
According to the International Energy Agency, renewable energy sources are on track to surpass oil as the leading generator of electricity in the next decade. By 2030, IEA predicts renewables to represent 50% of global electricity (it represented 36% in 2019), in part because solar photovoltaics have gone down in price to the point of being cheaper than coal and natural gas. Another reason, as described in Bloomberg Green, is to reduce climate-damaging emissions blamed for global warming.
On the subject of the cleaner energy solar gardens are known to produce, Carver said, “I think that’s why we decided to go with it, and it’s nice that we are now a subscriber (of Xcel Energy), and we benefit from our gardens right on our land also.”
Hosting a solar garden guarantees Carver a source of income over the next 25 years. Farmers that haven’t seen a substantial return on crops in recent years have the option of turning to solar energy as a way to add to their income, Orehek said. At this point, Carver’s garden has brought in over $34,000 of additional income.
“…We were so well-satisfied with the first one we did another one, so now we have two on our land,” Carver said.
Due to program guidelines, Nokomis could only build one megawatts-sized project on a property at a time, Orehek said. But since Carver has been a client beginning in 2018, the company has since enabled a separate second project on her property. If Carver continues working with Nokomis, she may eventually host even more solar gardens.
“We just finished two projects outside of Faribault this year that are turning on, and four more going in and around Faribault in the next year,” Orehek said. “… Because of Rita and other local landowners, a lot of Faribault area gardens are coming in, so any business municipality at this time can sign up for these gardens and subscribe by reaching out to us.”