In response to local interest, Superior Water Light & Power is exploring the possibility of planting a community solar garden in Superior. The 250-kilowatt project would be similar to the 40-kW solar array Minnesota Power built two years ago near the intersection of Rice Lake and Arrowhead roads in Duluth, just on a larger scale.
“We are hearing from our customers that they want solar, they’re interested in solar, and a community solar garden is a great option for residents who might not be able to install rooftop solar on their own,” Superior Water, Light & Power President Rob Sandstrom said. “We can leverage economies of scale to build a bigger project for the community and we feel we can do it cost effectively and this means everyone can save.”
A 250-kW project would cover the annual energy requirements for approximately 45 homes based on average residential usage. Participation would be open to the utility’s 15,000 customers, both residential and commercial.
The utility company is working with the city of Superior and Douglas County to secure a 3- to 5-acre site where the Superior Solar project can sink its roots. Land is pretty scarce around Superior, Sandstrom said, and the land that’s available is either expensive or includes wetlands, which require mitigation.
“So we’re looking for a land partner to keep our costs low,” he said. “That results in a more competitively priced solar option for our customers.”
The utility would like the solar garden to be visible. However, they "don't want to tie up any land that can be used for economic development with our solar project," Sandstrom said.
For example, the utility has approached the Superior School District about the possibility of leasing land near Northern Lights Elementary School along North 28th Street. The idea was discussed by the School Board during a July 15 meeting, but no action was taken.
Superior Water, Light & Power is also gathering information about similar projects like the Minnesota Power array. Since it began operating in January 2017, the 40-kW array has produced 158 megawatt hours of energy.
According to Minnesota Power, the environmental impact of that solar power equates to 12,270 gallons of gasoline or planting 2,796 trees.
“A lot of companies are setting up these community solar projects and we want to have kind of the best of all worlds,” Sandstrom said. “The projects have matured a little bit, so we want to be able to offer a combination of all those lessons learned with other projects along the way.”
The Superior solar garden is still in the development phase. Once a site is found, the project would need to be approved by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.
“I think it’s a story of more to come,” Sandstrom said.
The utility already has a handful of customers producing their own solar energy. Superior Water, Light & Power offers them the security of a grid connection. If they overproduce, they sell it back to the utility. If they under-produce, the utility sells them what they need.
A solar array would open the option of sustainable energy to more residents.
“We’re really excited about this project. It’s great to be able to offer something community-based and allows more people to participate,” Sandstrom said. “There might be some cost barriers for customers to do it on their own or structural barriers, but this is a nice, convenient cost-effective way for our customers to be more involved with how their energy is produced.”
Learn more about the proposed solar garden during the Superior Water, Light & Power customer open house from 4-7 p.m. Aug. 7 at Barkers Island Inn.
Sandstrom encourages customers planning to install their own solar panels to call the utility at 715-394-2200.