- February 26, 2021
- by Corey Orehek
We’re happy to provide the St. Cloud Math and Science Academy with savings through community solar that will not only effect the school’s budget but also it’s classroom curriculum. The elementary charter school is set to save around $2,000 each year on its Xcel Energy bill, thanks to two nearby community solar gardens.
The charter school teaches a STEM-focused curriculum to students in grades K-6, so when it moved from a rented space to their own building in 2017, the school considered solar energy both to save money and to teach students about renewable energy, said Administrator Sandi Eikmeier.
At the same time, Minneapolis-based Nokomis Energy was planning to create more solar gardens and sell that energy through Xcel Energy’s Solar Rewards Community Solar program, said Nokomis Energy Community Engagement Director Corey Orehek.
Through the community solar program, Xcel agrees to purchase power from the gardens with bill credits, which get purchased by the garden’s subscribers and count towards the subscriber’s power bills, Orehek said. Essentially, subscribers to the solar gardens get paid for the energy they create, as if the panels were installed on their own roof, in the form of bill credits. “There’s no upfront costs, and there’s no changes to the school’s facilities,” Orehek said. “This provides the school with benefits at virtually no risk.”
Nokomis Energy built two arrays in Starbuck in 2019, and the school is subscribed to both. The school started saving money with bill credits in early 2020. Typically, the company seeks to build solar gardens on what would otherwise be low-yield cropland, Orehek said. “Starbuck was a spot where it was on Xcel Energy’s grid, the community was open to it, landowners had an interest.” The school is one of many subscribers, he said, including the Minnesota Department of Transportation, American Business Solutions and Glacier Ridge Health in Pope County.
“The idea of the community solar garden is that each garden has to have a minimum of five subscribers, and you can only subscribe to 40% of that garden,” Orehek said. “The program is not set up for large corporates or huge entities to take up, it’s really built for communities.” The savings that St. Cloud Math and Science get will go towards materials for its programs, Eikmeier said, but that’s not the only benefit.
Nokomis Energy is working with one of the school’s fourth-grade teachers to create an online portal so that students can follow along in their classes about solar technology. The school will get access to a wealth of data from the solar array in Starbuck. “They’re able to see the production of those gardens day to day, week to week or month to month, and see how weather affects them,” Orehek said.
As the school reopens after COVID-19 shutdowns, it will start the new solar-related programs and continue to save on energy bills. For Eikmeier, the program was a no-brainer. “Why wouldn’t you want to save money for your business,” she said. “Why wouldn’t you want to help the environment, and, as a school, why wouldn’t we want to teach our kids for the future?”