The future of renewable energy was the at the forefront of Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s visit to the Redwood Electric Cooperative Community Solar Highwater Array near Lamberton.
The unique project allows REC members get either a 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’s a year.
“What makes this project stand out is that it wasn’t mandated,” said Jim Haler, Member Services Manager with South Central Electric Association. “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 projects such as the REC solar array and the adjacent Highwater Ethanol plant are heavily impacted by two important pieces of legislation: the farm bill and the energy bill.
Klobuchar announced to the small group assembled for her visit, that she and Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson are working in tandem to finish the farm bill a year early, which is due for reauthorization in 2019.
“I know this sounds very un-Washington-ly of us,” Klobuchar joked. “But Collin and I have been talking and would like to get the farm bill moving more quickly to get it done a year early, if the other side agrees.”
Klobuchar said the current farm bill has some good things in it, but there is room for improvement. Specifically she cited how renewable energy is being treated needs to be changed in the new bills.
Klobuchar said that bill would be the combination of a lot of different interests, which would include projects like the REC solar array, and ethanol among others.
“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. We need to look at solar, wind, natural gas, biofuels, nuclear and hydro(electric).”
Part of that equation, Klobuchar added, would include provisions for small projects like the one taken on by the REC.
“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 need 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.
The senator said there is a lot of work that still needs to be done on the renewable front, but there is momentum in the marketplace for expansion and growth.
“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.”