Xcel Energy is expanding solar options in Wisconsin through their Solar Connect Community project. They already have more than forty community “solar gardens” nationwide, making Xcel’s community solar garden program the largest in the nation.
The company has built or is building three “solar gardens” in Eau Claire, La Crosse, and now Ashland. The three solar gardens are part of a pilot project that was approved by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission in 2016.
Xcel presented on the Ashland proposal last year as a way to gauge interest. The Northland College Student Association (NCSA) loved the idea so much, they purchased one hundred, two-hundred-watt solar shares or 20 kW of power. The energy harnessed by NCSA’s 20 kW will be used to power the Larson-Juhl Center for Science and the Environment and greenhouse.
The price: $32,000, paid for by the Renewable Energy Fund (REFund), a student-administered grant program that has funded a long list of projects designed to enhance sustainability and increase energy efficiency on campus. Northland College students contribute to the fund through student fees.
“REFund continues to allow students to invest our money where we determine it will have the greatest positive impact in our community and in society as a whole,” said Jenise Swartley, NCSA president.
The solar garden is scheduled to be built in fall 2019 on Xcel-owned land near their Ashland Service Center, just off Farm Road in the city of Ashland. Until then, NCSA owns shares in the Eau Claire Community Solar Garden that will be transferred to the Ashland Solar Garden once it is complete.
The solar shares will save the College $53,000-$67,000 in electricity bills over the next twenty-five years.
“NCSA is moving the College closer to its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030,” said Scott Grinnell, director of sustainability initiatives. “Achieving carbon neutrality will require significant investments in renewable energy, and I think it is entirely fitting that our students have taken a bold lead toward making that happen.”
Photo above: An aerial view of the Eau Claire solar garden (PJ Nelson).