Eichten’s will be site of community solar installation

Photo by Mary Bailey Ed Eichten with the converter boxes for his existing solar array.
Photo by Mary Bailey
Ed Eichten with the converter boxes for his existing solar array.

Eichten’s Hidden Acres of Center City will become the home of Chisago County’s first community solar garden.

Ed Eichten will retire 4 acres of his farm at 16440 Lake Boulevard (Highway 8) for the solar array.

Local residents and business owners learned about the costs and benefits of becoming a partial owner, as well as the environmental impact of the garden, at an open house at the Eichten Farm on Thursday, Aug. 7.

Eichten’s Solar Farm (eichtenssolar.com) is expected to total 1 megawatt of power and to produce over 1.25 million kilowatt-hours per year, preventing 1.87 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year — the equivalent of 22,000 planted trees.

“We have always been very aware of energy costs and wanted to do something to help the environment and save money. Solar seemed like the right fit,” said Eichten, who had a solar array installed on his farm in 2012. “So far, it’s working out just like we hoped it would. There is great satisfaction in knowing it’s green and sustainable.”

This will be the first community solar garden in Chisago County and will be sited next to Eichten’s existing solar farm. Innovative Power Systems is developing the solar farm and will organize community members with the help of Xcel Energy. IPS will lease the 4 acres of Eichten’s farm and help monetize tax benefits associated with the project.

Ed Eichten is co-owner with his sister Eileen Carlson of Eichten’s Hidden Acres Cheese and Bison Farm.

On the day of the open house, Eichten said, the private solar array system installed in October of 2012 had generated 84,87 kilowatt hours since October of 2012, providing about a third of the electricity needed for the farm’s 12 walk-in coolers or freezers.

Eichten said adding solar power to the farm is in keeping with the ideas of his progressive parents, Joe and Mary Eichten, who started the business 38 years ago.

“My father was willing to try new stuff. He went to Holland to learn to make cheese,” he said.

His mother, who lives in the farmhouse and will see the solar panels out her picture window, is in favor of the idea.

“Anything to help with the electricity bill,” Eichten said.

Innovative Power Systems designs, installs and services solar electric, wind electric, solar thermal and electric vehicle charging systems in Minnesota and surrounding areas. IPS has completed other projects in Chisago County, including a recent 100-kilowatt project between Lakeside Elementary, Taylors Falls Elementary and Chisago Lakes Middle School.

Community solar gardens let Minnesotans share the benefits of solar energy with their neighbors. The program credits a CSG participant’s monthly energy bill proportionate to their share of monthly production, an alternative for home or business owners who want to go solar but lack the ideal site conditions to do so.

Residents can buy a 7 kW subscription for $7,000 with expected payback in eight years. After that, a 7 kW subscription will generate about $24,000 in savings before it expires at year 25.

 Parts of this story provided by Innovative Power Systems.