When the first solar panels were installed in 2009, the university was able to generate half a megawatt (500 kW) of power; and another 500 kW were added in 2014. Now the university has completed a third phase, known as the Orion Community Solar Garden, which is 3 MW – or six times larger, according to a t0 report this week by the St. Cloud Times.
Despite recent snowy weather, the new panels started producing electricity last week. It covers 23 acres of land owned by St. John’s Abbey and will generate enough electricity to power about 525 homes.
In total, the solar farm at St. John’s will provide about 19 percent of the university’s electricity needs, the local news outlet reported. On peak sunny summer days, it could produce as much as 90 percent of the campus’ power.
The solar farm fits with the Benedictine values of caring for the Earth and also fits with the university’s aim to reduce its carbon footprint. “St. John’s Abbey and University both are very interested in what we can in terms of renewable energy,” said Brother Benedict Leuthner, treasurer for the Order of St. Benedict.
The abbey and university worked with Edina-based solar developer Geronimo Energy,, to create the community solar garden. The abbey is leasing the land for the solar panels to BHE Renewables, a division of Berkshire Hathaway, which owns and operates the project.
Under rules for community solar gardens, the university and abbey can buy a maximum of 40 percent of the electricity produced. The additional power produced by the farm will be sold to Xcel Energy-Minnesota.
Despite the growth of the solar at St. John’s, it’s unlikely the solar farm will continue to grow larger than its current 27 acres, Brother Leuthner told the SC Times. However, the university and abbey remain interested in renewable energy, including the next challenge of energy storage, he said.
In related news, on January 11, St. Cloud radio station KNSI reported that Minnesota’s solar energy capacity had made “great strides” in the past year, increasing to 250 MW from 35 MW in 2015.