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Solar farm positive investment for Marshall

Marshall Municipal Utilities diversifying its energy sources through the completion of a solar farm is a positive development for the city of Marshall

The nearly operational, 10-megawatt, 50-acre solar farm, located on the north side of town at 7th Street and Lyon County Road 33, is being funded by Missouri River Energy Services (MRES) and Western Area Power Administration (WAPA).

These providers of electrical and hydroelectrical power for the city of Marshall also serve cities across four different states. Marshall uses the most energy out of them all, about 12% of the total MRES output. Currently Marshall gets 25% of its energy needs met from WAPA hydroelectric power, and 75% from electricity provided by MRES.

All of the energy produced by the solar farm will be utilized within city limits to help power the Archer Daniel Midland Plant, which currently accounts for roughly half of the municipal utilities’ electrical output. Although it requires up-front costs and maintenance, having an additional source of renewable, clean energy is a smart investment for this provider, the ADM plant, and Marshall.

The solar farm is a good investment not only because it is a relatively low-cost way to provide for the city’s energy demands, but also because it strengthens the energy grid by adding a diverse source of energy alongside water, wind turbines, and traditional electrical generators.

Some object that the solar farm is unsightly and sits on land that might otherwise be dedicated to agriculture or housing. But the Marshall solar farm occupies a space that is already largely industrial.

There are few to no homes in the area that will have pleasant views spoiled. Farmland in the area is plentiful, and the solar farm makes good use of land that has mixed use for agriculture and technology. Supplying energy to businesses like ADM, which does much in the way of providing jobs and otherwise boosting the local economy, is a wise strategy that could appeal to other current or prospective businesses in Marshall.

Solar farms have become increasingly popular in states like Arizona, where sunlight is at a premium. In such places solar panels energize homes, businesses, and schools. They are found in unusual places such as the roofs of parking garages and schools, where they take up otherwise unused space, and provide welcome shade for vehicles and buildings.

The excess energy that they produce can be sold to energy companies to offset other operational costs. It may seem that Marshall does not have the same potential to reap the rewards of solar to the same extent as such very sunny locations, but this is not so.

As a teen growing up in Wisconsin in the 1980s, my father was one of the first to put solar panels on our home as a way to reduce our family’s energy expenses. The savings impressed him so much that as a self-employed salesman he shifted his business line to exclusively sell solar home systems. I was enlisted to help by making calls to set up sales visits.

There were plenty of skeptics, given that Wisconsin is not noted for its stores of sunshine, but for snow. While we could not have powered our entire home using solar, a large battery receptacle installed in our basement stored energy to last us throughout the cloudy weather and the shorter, snowy days of winter.

Similarly, the energy produced by the Marshall solar farm will be converted from DC to AC power, and stored in lithium batteries to make energy available when sun is less available. Like cellular phones, these batteries are now smaller and more efficient than the large pod in my childhood basement.

When pooled with other sources of energy, the solar farm will make more energy available, relieving strain on current demands and sources for the power grid. In an ideal world, the larger supply of energy would lower energy costs for all of us.

This innovative step might inspire other businesses, schools, and home owners to consider solar as an energy supplement if they have at least some sun exposure. Rebates and tax incentives can help lower these costs. It is an added bonus that solar power is sustainable and clean, and helps to meet statewide mandates for carbon-free energy.

In southwest Minnesota we are used to productive farms of all types. With the completion of this new solar farm, Marshall will take advantage of some of its greatest resources–sun, wind, and land, to grow a new kind of product on a new kind of farm.

— Maureen Sander is a philosophy professor at Southwest Minnesota State University and circulation manager at the Marshall Independent

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