Terning Seeds "Goes Solar"
Dean and Dennis Terning, owners of Terning Seeds and TNT Farms installed a solar energy system on their seed farm Southwest of Cokato. The 105.6 kW system started generating electricity on December 23, 2014. The system will generate approximately 198,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually, making this the largest privately owned solar system of its kind in Minnesota. Dennis Terning stated, "We estimate this system will supply over 90% of our current electricity needs for our entire farm." Our goal was to lower our carbon footprint and make a wise financial investment at the same time. We also anticipate annual increases in the cost of electricity as well, compounding our savings in the future.
We looked into solar energy about five years ago, although at that time it was not financial feasible. However, due to the rapid expansion of the solar industry over the last few years has led to a decrease in the cost of more than 45% since 2012 in commercial installations. The decrease in cost combined with substantial tax incentives currently available makes the return on investment very attractive. The federal government also offers grant money up to 25% of the cost for those who qualify. Our solar system is interconnected with Xcel Energy's power grid by use of a bidirectional meter and a "net metering" agreement. At times, Terning's solar panels will be supplying electricity to other Xcel Energy customers in the area when their system is producing more electricity than they need themselves. During those times, the bidirectional meter will actually run in reverse and their electric bill will be credited and applied to future electricity charges when their demand for electricity is high, such as fall harvest season.
Instead of using conventional 30° fixed-angle mounting brackets for the solar panels, they chose to install dual-axis trackers. Dual-axis trackers capture optimum solar energy levels [which increase performance of the system by 20 to 30%] due to their ability to follow the sun vertically and horizontally throughout the day. No matter where the sun is, dual-axis trackers are able to angle themselves to be in direct contact with the sun. The trackers have a snow mode, when activated, the solar panels move to a vertical position, allowing snow to slide off the panels when necessary. Trackers also have a built-in system that monitors wind speed. In the event of a 30 mile-per-hour wind for 15 seconds or more, the system will flatten horizontally, minimizing wind resistance. The system consists of 16 individual piers with a tracking system and 24-275 watt solar panels. In the past, installation of a ground mounted pier would be an expensive procedure involving excavation of dirt, construction of forms and the pouring of concrete footings. Nowadays, installers are able to establish a permanent base by simply auguring a galvanized helical pier anchor into the ground, drastically reducing the cost of installing a tracker system.
The Terning's chose Blue Horizon Energy [http://www.bluehorizonsolar.com] of Eden Prairie, Minnesota to construct the solar system. Dean stated "Blue Horizon achieved our two primary goals. Those were, to have the system up and running by December 2014, and all components used in the project be made in the United States." The entire system was installed by contractors from the state of Minnesota, which included local electricians from Ahlgren Electric of Dassel.
The Minnesota legislature has required all public utilities in the state must have a minimum of 20% of their electricity be generated by alternative energy sources such as, wind and solar by December 31, 2020. However, Xcel Energy [the largest public utility in the state] must reach a level of 30%, due to the fact they operate a nuclear power plant in Becker, Minnesota.
The Terning's encourage every home and/or business owner to contact their public utility and research their solar energy programs. Another viable option is for people to participate in renewable solar energy through a Minnesota Community Solar Garden. Minnesota Community Solar Gardens offers a new, simpler way for more electric ratepayers to access solar power. They build large solar arrays in locations ideal for generating solar power. Subscriptions to their community solar gardens (CSGs) produce electricity for the grid, which is measured and credited to subscribers on the electricity bill they receive from their utility every month. Without community solar, only 20 percent of all ratepayers are in a position to access solar energy due to site characteristics, lack of property ownership, cost, or legal restrictions. Community solar subscriptions are available to anyone with an electric bill.