SOLAR PANELS AT WACC:
How often does a worthwhile project that’s searching for funding cross paths with a business that wants to donate funds to a worthwhile project?
Not often — but that’s what happened with the Walker Area Community Center (WACC) and its new 90-panel solar array.
The WACC has been working with the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) of Pine River to design a solar panel installation to offset some of the WACC’s electrical costs. WACC and RREAL had done all the legwork and the project was ready to go — except for funding.
At roughly the same time, Minnesota Power and Light (MPL) was trying to decide how to use money that was earmarked for qualified projects in communities intheir service area. But the window of opportunity to spend those dollars was short.
“We had four or five months to nail down projects,” recalls Josh Goutermont of MPL. “So we worked with the Region 5 Economic Development Corporation (R5DC) to see if any local units of government or nonprofits had approached them looking for funding.”
Among the eligible projects suggested by R5DC was the one at the WACC.
“It fit all our requirements,” Goutermont said. “The WACC serves the community, and they had this great solar project put together that was all ready — except for the money.”
On Aug. 12 the solar array, with about 90 solar panels, was being installed by a RREAL crew in a cleared area north of the WACC that faces south.
MPL’s final contribution will be slightly under $150,000. No matching funds are required from the WACC. MPL estimates the solar array will generate about 39,000 kilowatts annually. At optimum production, it should offset about 40-45 percent of the WACC’s energy usage per month.
“There are some variables, like if the panels are dirty or how much sun they get; but it’s a pretty good estimate,” he added.
Barring weather delays, the solar array should be commissioned and operating by mid-August.
“MPL is very happy to be making an investment in all the communities we serve,” Goutermont stated. “This will be a model that people and businesses can come and look at.”
by Gail DeBoer, Pilot Independent Staff Writer