The city and township of La Crescent teamed up in an agreement that put solar panels on the rooftop of the La Crescent Fire Station/Community Building last month.

In an agreement with Winona Renewable Energy and funded through the Made in Minnesota Solar Incentive Program, the installation and maintenance for the 142 solar panels will cost La Crescent nothing.

“The city sees no cost for installation or materials, and we’re guaranteed a 20 percent savings on our energy bills,” said the city’s Building and Zoning Official Shawn Wetterlin. “It’s a win-win, that’s for sure.”

Under the agreement, the fire station’s roof is leased to Winona Renewable Energy, which will own and maintain the solar panels. The energy generated by the panels gets transmitted to the grid, and sold back to the city and township at a 20 percent discount. La Crescent will save around $1,000 annually on their energy costs, Wetterlin estimated.

After six years, the two municipalities will have the option to purchase the panels at a discounted price to maximize savings and become closer to generating its own energy. Wetterlin said the system’s materials cost around $160,000. The panels are under a 25-year warranty, and all maintenance and support is covered by Winona Renewable Energy.

The solar panels, which are tilted at a 15-degree angle, have been producing energy as of 10 a.m. on Dec. 18, when they were installed. Last week the city added a link to their website with a full system report of the panels, with the data updated every few minutes.

“People can click on the GreenStep tab, and click on the link, and it’ll show them what these solar panels are producing today and since they’ve been operational,” Wetterlin said. “It shows our carbon footprint and what we’re saving.”

GreenStep movement

Solar projects got rolling in the city shortly after La Crescent became a “GreenStep City” in 2015. GreenStep is a volunteer program run by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, formed to assist cities with their sustainability goals.

La Crescent hired a GreenStep intern in November, Erin Heiting, who works on finding ways to improve La Crecent’s energy usage. Heiting, who currently studies environmental biology at Viterbo, said she was was excited to come on board at the same time the city was preparing for the solar panel installation.

“Getting this in La Crescent, not the biggest city, shows residents that even a smaller town can get solar panels,” Heiting said.

“And more homeowners will maybe be more willing to try them, especially if they can see on the website how much it’s saving.”

One of Heiting’s current tasks is to enter all the city’s electric and gas usage data into a system to more easily identify changes and improvements that could be made. She’s also comparing La Crescent’s recycling program to other local and national municipalities, to see what could be revamped.

Wetterlin said La Crescent is also exploring options to get additional solar panels installed on more of the city’s buildings, such as the ice arena and aquatic center.

“We’re going to continue to look for more ways to be more sustainable,” he said. “If it’s right for the city, we’re going to go ahead with it.”

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Houston County News reporter

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