Minnesota Farmers Union hosted a series of workshops around the state in July, to help farmers understand the options for increasing their on-farm generation of electricity using renewable energy technology.  

The session, hosted at the MLEC campus in Aitkin on July 25,  introduced resources such as the Farmers’ Guide to Solar and Wind Energy in Minnesota, a resource for farmers considering large scale solar and wind installations on their farms. MFU partnered with the Farmers’ Legal Action Group (FLAG) to create this report.

The workshop was not well attended compared to those in other parts of the state, said organizer Michelle Medina; some interested participants were pulled in another direction because of the timing of the workshop during a week of great hay making weather, said local farmer Frank Turnock, who was there.

In other parts of the state, workshop attendees toured solar and wind installations at a local farm, but no such venue was available in the Aitkin area. Tom Schultz, a farmer from outside Aitkin County, attended and was able to tell participants about his dairy farm installations of solar, wind and methane energy production.

Jeff Coombs, MLEC renewable energy point person, spoke to participants about the solar array near the MLEC building. Coombs spoke about the installation and how the energy it produces can be tracked and monitored from inside the building.

One option that was discussed was the solar garden or solar farm concept, in which local investors  share in the cost of developing an array on leased land, and then receive a payment based on the power generated by the array and fed back into the grid. This can provide benefits to local investors who want to see increased reliance on renewable energy, even if they don’t have a suitable site on their own property or cannot afford the total investment. Investors in a solar farm or garden don’t even have to be in close proximity to each other to invest in a project. When asked, what support MLEC offers to farmers who want to install solar capacity, Coombs told attendees that MLEC does not offer any incentives because it is a distribution cooperative, and power generation is not in its mission, said Turnock. MLEC is choosing to focus instead on fiber optic internet for interested customers, said Coombs.

MLEC service area customers have also expressed little interest in solar farms or solar gardens, based on a survey conducted by the cooperative. Coombs said only half a dozen customers said they were interested in the concept, and of those only three were willing to invest. If that changes, MLEC is able to help coordinate the engineering and connection services to make projects happen.

Farmers who wish to consider renewable energy installations and want to learn more may contact Michelle Medina, Minnesota Farmers Union director of programming, or go to www.mfu.org/renewable-energy-

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