That was the feeling United States Senator Amy Klobuchar left with after a visit Friday morning to the Redwood Electric Cooperative (REC) Community Solar Array located adjacent to Highwater Ethanol near Lamberton.
“It’s nice to see these two operations next to each other,” Klobuchar said of the REC solar array and Highwater Ethanol. “It’s like a metaphor for the future.”
REC members who opt into the voluntary program get either a kilowatt hour (kWh) credit on their monthly bill or pay $.14/kWh rate based on their portion of the total system production. The array is comprised of 448 solar panels. Each panel will produce approximately 500 KWh per year.
Klobuchar visited with a small contingent of people during her stop Friday. The group consisted of board members from the Redwood Electric Cooperative and the South Central Electric Association, as well as members of Highwater Ethanol.
“What makes this project stand out is that it wasn’t mandated,” said Jim Haler, member services manager with South Central Electric Association to the senator. “This is a project we undertook for the benefits of our members and those who want to get a portion of their electricity from a renewable source.”
Klobuchar said it is important to make sure there are policies in place on the state and federal level to encourage this kind of corporate initiative when it comes to renewable energy.
“We are seeing a shift,” Klobuchar said. “In fact, electric cooperatives and rural areas have more land to do these kinds of things and (rural areas) could be real leaders in this, but it is difficult with the economies of scale for them to take it on just by themselves.”
Klobuchar said there needs to be some incentives in place to make sure projects like the REC solar array continue to be taken up by smaller entities in the energy market.
“I’ve been making the case that power co-ops are in a way different situation than say, Xcel,” Klobuchar said.
Senator Klobuchar commented that the two operations – the REC solar array and Highwater Ethanol – are each impacted from different pieces of federal legislation.
“Highwater, of course, is more tied into the farm bill,” said Klobuchar. “While the electric cooperative will be more impacted by the energy bill.”
Klobuchar said she is working to make sure rural projects like the REC solar array and Highwater Ethanol are represented in these important legislative pieces.
“There is no silver bullet,” Klobuchar said. “We’ll be using silver buckshot. We will need to look at all kinds of energy to be strong.”
Klobuchar left the REC solar array and continued a two-day tour through southwest Minnesota, which included stops at another solar array near Tyler, a wind farm and veterans home.