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The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single photon

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Like the proverbial Prodigal Son, the Roseau Electric Cooperative has made a small step toward redemption by finally embracing the cleanest and soon to be cheapest source of electrical power -- solar energy.

On May 21 Roseau Electric began generating solar power with a modest 24-panel, each capable of generating 410 watt of energy. This gives the array a capacity of 9.84 kW, which is expected to produce 13,412 kWh in the first year of operation.

It’s a tiny amount,considering that in a recent average month, the REC charged its customers for more than 13 million kWh. That means that on any given day, the solar panel will provide for a tiny 0.00071 percent of the power-co-op’s total needs.

It’s a small start, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Or, your might say, the journey toward total energy independence begins with the capture of a single photon.

A 24-panel system will barely make a dent in the co-op’s overall needs, but the transition toward safe, clean and nonpolluting energy sources is not merely a convenience, it's an urgent necessity.

For one thing, the state of Minnesota is driving hard to covert its overall energy profile from old dirty energy, especially coal, to new clean energy technologies. All utilities must get 25 percent of their energy from renewables by year 2025.

But a new solar power rule passed during the previous Legislative session added a 1.5% solar energy mandate -- something Roseau Electric Cooperative managed to dodge by way of aggressive political lobbying.

However, more clean energy mandates are highly likely to keep coming. As REC General Manager Tracey Stoll wrote to co-op members:

“As members, you need to realize that on your state’s radar are more mandates for renewables ... Throughout Minnesota, you hear of investments in solar ... I have never been a proponent of these mandates believing instead that the consumer/member should drive the speed of adoption of new technology.”

And yet, Stoll said the “techie” inside of him admits to “a certain fascination and excitement” about solar energy.

He’s not alone. Solar is blossoming all across Minnesota.

Take, for example, the recent announcement by Morrison County in Minnesota. It has given the green light to a new solar farm that will generate a robust 10 megawatts -- roughly enough energy to power 1,000 homes. It’s just one of 24 new solar farms springing up in central Minnesota.

A 10-megawatt facility is also going up near Albany in Streans County and another 10MG unit has the go-ahead in Paynesville.

The new solar farm in Morrison County will cover 70 acres.

Roseau Electric’s new solar initiative is obviously tiny by comparison, but it’s a welcome start considering that the co-op still gets almost 60% if its power from dirty coal, while the national average for coal is just 39%. Source

Using so much coal to light our homes and run our businesses cannot be sustained for three reasons:

1. Coal is about to become more expensive as the EPA ramps up to establish the first ever limits on CO2 pollutions.

2. The environmental damage resulting from burning coal is devastating the ecology of the planet.

3. Coal sickens and kills thousands of people annually. North Dakota’s Milton R. Young plant alone, for example, kills some 37 people per year. Source

Burning coal is not only the primary driver of climate change, but it’s dumping a plethora of toxic substances into our water, soil and air.

Here in Roseau County, for example, the MPCA recently published a report stating that the fish in the Roseau River have been tested to have “exceptionally high" rates of mercury. Source

One of the primary sources of mercury in our water and fish comes from burning coal.

Northern Minnesota homes and businesses must stop using energy from coal -- wind, solar and hydro are the viable alternatives. Roseau Electric Cooperative now has all three.

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