Clean energy scalability in West Central Minnesota
In our most recent regional roadshow, three CEEM member-businesses shared their latest projects in West Central Minnesota and the impact they have on the local community. From a family-owned farm, to a commercial manufacturing company, Falk’s Seed Farm, 75F and Impact Power Solutions approach their clean energy work from three different perspectives.
Independent energy production
Falk’s Seed Farm, run by husband and wife, Jim and Karen Falk, is a family-owned business going back five generations. Falk’s Seed Farm located in Murdock, MN values local customers and initiatives, with a majority of their customers being farms within 150 miles of their seed plant. A few years back the Falk’s were excited to be a part of a proposed wind-installation project on their land. Unfortunately, the project ran into trouble connecting to local transmission lines. The Falk’s realized that if their goal was to serve their local community, then their energy solutions should be localized.
“We wanted to do our part to offset our carbon footprint and power the majority of our seedplant’s electrical needs from renewable energy on site,” said Falk.
After discovering the difficulties that independent farmers face when joining an established grid, Falk Seed Farms turned to on-site energy production. From 2016-2019, the seed plant had an annual, average energy cost of $14,332. Since their installation of wind in 2016, and solar in 2017, their renewable energy sources now produce 73.7% of this necessary electrical power on-site.
“On-farm renewable energy systems are vital tools for farmers and ranchers and their businesses, as they work toward economic and environmental sustainability to combat climate change,” said Falk.
From retrofits to reinvention
Helping commercial businesses improve their energy savings is what 75F is all about. Rather than approach a project with the intention of modifying the existing system, 75F has reinvented the installation process and uses modern technology to update the way that buildings are managed.
“This system is very scalable. That was the key to accessibility,” said Bob French of 75F.
75F’s building management system is a vertically-integrated system that begins with sensors and ends with wireless control. This solution provides not only comfort and efficiency for the building-owners, but reduces energy costs. Recently, 75F was able to reduce the utility bills for HOM Furniture in St. Cloud by 21.1%, after only improving their HVAC sector.
“We reduced the consumption of their HVAC equipment by about 40% or so, which is almost unheard of in this day and age,” said French, “But, with modern technology this can be done.”
To guarantee savings to their customers, 75F turns to EnergyPrint. EnergyPrint allows 75F to create a utility dashboard in which they can track a customer’s actual savings in relation to their projected savings. This modeling method allows 75F to track all of their projects, small and large, adding another layer of scalability to their business’ approach.
Solar powering community partnerships
Founded in 1991, Impact Power Solutions works with the commercial and industrial markets across the state. Their primary focus is installing community solar, and they have installed 180MW of solar since their founding. Impact Power Solutions is involved throughout the entire process, aiding in development, financing, installation, and maintenance.
Impact Power Solutions’ community solar program allows local businesses to reduce their carbon footprints without the worry of maintaining solar panels on their own roofs. It is not just businesses, however, that Impact Power Solutions engage with. The company has also created the Sunrise Program, a solar-centered curriculum program in which school districts can subscribe to and participate in. This program provides schools access to Impact Power Solutions’ solar data, allowing educators to engage their students with real-world work.
“Students and educators can chart real-time and historic data from the systems in a way that helps students recognize and understand how energy is created, where it is created, and how solar energy benefits them,” said Eric Pasi of Impact Power Solutions, “Not just from a financial standpoint, but also from a climate resiliency and grid resiliency standpoint.”
In a bi-annual event, Impact Power Solutions invites educators out to their solar sites. These meetings are an opportunity for each party to share knowledge, where Impact Power Solutions listens to the desires of the educators, while explaining how solar energy is evolving. As a result, this combined set of knowledge is compiled into a curriculum that is sent to schools across the state, free of charge.
What role can you play in the future of clean energy?
With the Build Back Better plan that is under debate at the federal level, the details can be overwhelming. In the clean energy industry, however, job growth is a central element. As a growing industry, it can look intimidating and unfamiliar from the outside, but the clean energy workforce is made up of individuals from all backgrounds, from skilled trade workers to marketing and accounting strategists.
“We’ve grown up on the clean energy side in terms of lobbying, and with our impact on communities both red and blue, there is a lot to be celebrated from a bipartisan angle,” said Pasi.
The implementation of clean energy infrastructure will rely on these realizations of mutual benefits. From farmers partnering with co-ops, to renewable technology companies partnering with building owners, these relationships are the foundation of the future of the industry.