Minnesota’s Bright Energy Future

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by Michelle Rosier, Sr. Regional Organizing Manager

I grew up the daughter of an iron ore miner, acutely aware that my hometown economy relied on a business that was quite literally slowly consuming the town as the mine expanded. When I went to college, thanks to scholarships and the money my father made at that mine, I learned how it wasn’t just mining that relied on finite natural resources, but the energy we use to power our economy is largely based on finite, dirty fossil fuels. Energy touches every part of our lives from the air we breathe in the form of pollution to our monthly budget with our utility bills to the electricity we use to light our house or power our work. It was the epitome to me of something I’ve always known in my heart — we need solutions that address all aspects of our lives.


That’s why my spirits were lifted this month when I was able to visit Featherstone Farm for their solar dedication. Last year, I applied my tax rebate toward a micro-loan to build a solar array large enough to provide the farm with up to 60% of their electricity. It was a chance to break free from the gridlock our country is in about the future of where we get our energy — the public overwhelmingly supporting renewables while Big Coal and Oil’s lobbyists remain effective in thwarting policies that make progress toward those goals.  I was able to witness in Rushford, Minnesota a future I support — an organic farm in rural Minnesota that is one step closer to being carbon neutral.
In the words of Featherstone Farm’s Jack Hedin:


“The challenges we face in energy and climate policy are well documented and daunting; no doubt. I believe we cannot afford to wait on public policy to provide leadership; the timeline is too short. That’s why Featherstone Farm is taking the initiative and installing a 38 kilowatt photovoltaic (solar) array on its machine shed… [O]ur fundamental goal here is one of sustainability; combined with the ground source geothermal system we installed at Featherstone Farm in 2008; the solar system will go a long way to make our 4 acre ‘farmyard’ essentially zero carbon for the long term. It gets at the rood of the problem in a substantial, tangible way. In a larger sense, I believe that this project’s greatest value lies in its potential to mobilize ordinary people to becomed engaged. People like you and me that recognize the importance of the challenge, and who are prepared to make our deeds match our words. We can demonstrate real leadership together on this critical issue, and hopefully inspire others (in the public and private sectors, both) to create positive change as well.”


Featherstone Farm was able to leverage support from its customers (both CSA members, like me, and grocery co-ops, like Sierra Club North Star Chapter’s neighbor the Seward Co-op) and state and federal grants to build a solar array that will pay itself off in just 7 years in money saved on the farm’s electricity bill. It felt good to contribute my money toward my values (and it didn’t hurt that in 7 years I’ll get that money back with some interest!) The project cost $300,000 (including updates to the machine shed and a new cooler) and employed 22 workers during the installation. SummitEco, based in Minneapolis, was the solar installer.
The solar dedication featured political leaders; including Representative Tim Walz, MN Department of Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson, Governor Dayton’s Energy Advisor Ellen Anderson, and Rushford Mayor Chris Hallum. There was also promise by the partnership Featherstone Farm has with its local rural electric cooperative, Tri-County Electric, demonstrating where there is a will there is a way to invest in the clean energy future all Minnesotans want.


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2 Responses to “Minnesota’s Bright Energy Future”

  1. Kristi Rosenquist

    We don’t make electricity from oil. MN already gets 25% of our electricity from “renewables”. Wind produces more than 1/2 of it’s electricty when it cannot be used or sold – at great expense to tax and rate payers. MN has one of the most stringent renewable mandates in the nation – if it didn’t this farm would not have had their wind and solar paid by tax and rate payers. How much of the $300,000 was paid by the farmer? Does the 7 year pay back give the grant money back? Will he get paid for his excess electricity even when it can’t be used or sold by the utility? He’s obviously not running any large equipment, because solar and a tiny wind turbine won’t produce three phase reliable power. To pretend there is a lack of public policy on the subject in MN is laughable. You may want to look at actual science on bird and bat kills by industrial wind – (don’t look to the wind industry, they hide the bodies). The renewable industry is about money, not about what is right or what works. Maybe you can ask Ellen Anderson about the MN Noise standard that doesn’t measure turbine noise – used to site turbines near home.

  2. Patience

    That’s great! Tell us how to get involved in these clean energy micro-loans!


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