Solar power research project launched in Carrington

Jun 22, 2015

Credit Dave Thompson / Prairie Public

Two electric co-ops in north central North Dakota have launched a joint demonstration project for solar energy.

It’s a small-scale project. Northern Plains Electric Cooperative and Dakota Valley Electric Cooperative have installed a 6 and a half kilowatt solar project – as a demonstration, at Northern Plains' Carrington headquarters.

“The deal was, let’s put something together at one of the two cooperatives’ headquarters, that will demonstrate – and we can kind of play with to see how solar really works,”said JoAnn Rodenbiker, the business development director for Northern Plains.

“It’s a research project," said system engineer Ashten Breker. "We’re doing the research for our cooperative members.”

Breker says it's about 25 by 28 feet.

"We’ve elevated it – it’s almost six feet tall," Breker said. "The panels themselves are in rows of four, so there’s four panels, and four sets of four.”

Breker says this was designed to show members what an individual installation would look like.

“So they can see how we did it, how we put it together, what sizes, how much it costs, all that stuff," said Breker. "We did it for the members so they could see how much it would cost them, and what kind of benefit they would get from it.”

Rodenbiker says in the area served by the two cooperatives, individual installations make the most sense in the short term.

“We don’t have a population all centered in one place, like Cass Electric, which is looking at a community project, said Rodenbiker. "For us, it’s a little more difficult to do because we are rural.”

Breker says one of the objectives in the project is to show how solar could actually save money.

“And that’s where you’re going to see the most benefit is saving money – not necessarily producing power back," Breker said. "You will save more money than you would earn selling it.”

“The deal was, let’s put something together at one of the two cooperatives’ headquarters, that will demonstrate – and we can kind of play with to see how solar really works.”

“We still love coal," said Northern Plains board member Tracy Boe. He says this is not designed to replace the co-ops’ main source of power. But Boe says the future lies in a more diversified energy portfolio.

“There’s wind towers going up in the northern part of our service area," said Boe. "We’ve got wind towers in the southern area. Now we’ve got this solar. We’ll see where that fits in.”

Credit Dave Thompson / Prairie Public