This article was originally published in Red Wing Republican Eagle on November 8th, 2018. The author is Steve Gardiner and the content has been republished in its entirety as it originally appeared. Images are copyright Steve Gardiner, RiverTown Multimedia.
An old sandpit near the Sportsman's Club in Frontenac off Highway 61 has been transformed into the Frontenac Solar Garden, reflecting a trend of rapidly increasing use of solar power throughout Minnesota.
"This site was an old quarry," said Karl von Knobelsdorff, owner of Knobelsdorff Electric, Inc. from Goodhue. "It is a good use of the land. You don't like to see a solar garden go onto nice farmland."
According to von Knobelsdorff, whose company is constructing the Frontenac Solar Garden, most solar gardens in Minnesota are being built on poor farmland with a history of low production, and "now they are collecting lease money for a solar garden for 25 years."
"It's a real win for the farmer, the environment, and the community," he said. "It puts a lot of local people to work, and it's a good tax base for the county and the state."
Solar Energy Explosion
Statewide, the construction of solar gardens is soaring, according to David Shaffer, executive director of the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association in St. Paul, which represents 120 solar companies in the state.
Shaffer said the best way to talk about solar energy is in megawatts. In 2009, the state of Minnesota had a total of 1.5 megawatts of solar energy. The solar panels for that amount would have covered about 12 acres.
"We have gone from 1.5 megawatts to installing 5 megawatt gardens all around," Shaffer said.
"We just reached 400 megawatts of installed community solar gardens with another 300 megawatts to go," Shaffer said. "I would guess that about 100 more megawatts will be built this year, and then another 200 will be built in 2019, based on what is currently in the cue."
He said he would not be surprised if Minnesota soon had a gigawatt of solar power installed. "That is 1,000 megawatts," he said. "Many other states are not even at 100 megawatts."
The Solar Energy Industries Association has a map that gives a detailed comparison of state-by-state solar installments at their website at https://www.seia.org/states-map.
Community Solar Gardens
Much of that growth is the result of legislation passed in 2013 which led to the creation of community solar gardens. A key factor is that legislation did not put a cap on how much community solar can be installed, but left those decisions to the market.