Austin Utilities to tap the sun; New service to offer subscriptions to solar array power

Published 9:19 am Thursday, August 10, 2017

Mower County leads the state in wind energy production. Now, leaders at Austin Utilities are hoping to capitalize on another source of renewable energy: solar power.

Austin Utilities announced on Tuesday the launch of its SolarChoice campaign, a community solar project.

“We’ve heard from our customers over the years about their desire for bringing in more forms of renewable energy,” said Austin Utilities General Manager Mark Nibaur.

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Several customers who have already signed up to be part of the community solar project took part in the announcement. One was Austin resident Daphne Wagner.

“My son, who does not live in Austin, has a solar panel outside his house and it brings in heat, so that cuts cost on his heating,” she said. “I thought that might work for me.”

So far, Austin Utilities has sold subscriptions for 101 panels. They are hoping to sell a minimum of 2,250 panels over the coming year.

Under the SolarChoice program, customers in Austin can sign-up for a 335-watt solar panel that would be on a proposed three-megawatt community solar array in Princeton, Minn.

SolarChoice has a five-megawatt solar array located near Owatonna. It currently supplies power to 775 homes.

Subscriptions are for six years or 12 years. Subscribers may sign-up for more than one panel if they wish and are eligible for a tax credit.

“As (customers) subscribe to solar panels, they will get a credit on their bill based on the output of the panel on a monthly basis,” Nibaur said.

Since the Princeton solar array will be located on a community site, subscribers will not have to put the panels on their property, an aspect that appeals to former mayor and SolarChoice subscriber Bonnie Rietz.

“The solar panels will be somewhere else, which is convenient,” she said. “I’m grateful to Austin Utilities for allowing us to participate in this.”

Austin Utilities will be holding free workshops on Oct. 4 and Oct. 7 for those interested in SolarChoice. For more information, call 507-433-8886.

Austin Utilities has a 12-panel array on the north side of its building to help power the structure. The array has the capacity to produce four kilowatts of direct current or 3.8 kilowatts of alternating current.  It is expected to generate approximately 5,000-kilowatt hours annually.

The average household uses 7,400-kilowatt hours annually, meaning the array could provide 67.5 percent of the average home’s energy.