Crucifixion solar panels

Crucifixion Elementary School principal Doug Harpenau examines one of the 152 newly installed solar panels on the rooftop of the school earlier this month. 

Crucifixion Elementary School Principal Doug Harpenau was apprehensive of the cold and wobbly ladder that led to the rooftop of the school last Thursday morning, but he knew he would be appreciative of the scene at the top.

Through participation in the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s Made in Minnesota solar incentive program and an agreement with Aquilla Solar of Wabasha, Crucifixion has become the first school in town with a solar power system on its roof.

The 152 solar panels recently installed above the school’s gymnasium can produce 40 kilowatts of electricity, enough to provide around 80 percent of the school’s electricity.

“I was extremely happy,” Harpenau said about the news the school had been accepted into the program. “Last year we applied and didn’t get it, and this year I said let’s roll the dice again because it can’t hurt.”

The panels can be individually monitored and adjusted, and connect to an inverter behind the school. The inverter converts the power from the panels to an alternating current that transmits it to the electrical grid.

Crucifixion will receive a 10 percent discount on its electricity bill for the next 10 years as a result of the project, Harpenau said. After six years, the school will have the ability to purchase the panels for 10 percent of the purchase price of $13,000 from Aquilla. After 10 years, Crucifixion can purchase the solar array for $1.

Because Xcel allows schools to have up to 120 percent of their annual power offset by solar, Harpenau said Crucifixion could install a separate 30kW system in the future. The Made in Minnesota program caps installations at 40kW per system.

The installation of solar panels on a flat roof like Crucifixion’s starts by placing each panel onto steel mounts that are supported by cinder blocks. The entire framework relies entirely on balance, and no part of the system is physically attached to the roof.

“I was expecting like three of four semis to roll in,” said Harpenau, who was surprised by how simple the installation process was.

Aquilla project manager Jeff Shockoconger said that in Minnesota, a licensed electrician is required for the hookup of the panels, so the four-person crew that unloaded everything and structured the panels into place Thursday morning didn’t actually plug anything in until the electric crew arrived later in the day, and both crews work together through each connection.

“It’s all plug and play though, really,” said Shockoconger, who oversaw the installation on Thursday and will oversee the setup of the monitoring system as well.

If something goes wrong with the system, an Aquilla representative will notify the school, and if necessary, have them perform a system reset. Aquilla will also come to inspect the any potentially serious issue. Harpenau said he was inclined to work with Aquilla because they were local, and support for the panels would be close if any issue arose.

“I wanted to go local, and we were lucky to find someone right around here,” said Harpenau. “So therefore if there is an issue, I know where they are, because they have a stake in the area.”

Including Crucifixion students in the schools’ movement towards green energy is important, said Harpenau, and solar energy is included in the science curriculum.

“They’re learning that solar isn’t just something you can put on your roof,” said Harpenau. “And that you don’t need electricity for everything, and that solar can be used in all kinds of different units. So they’re being educated on how it all works now, and how there are much easier ways of doing it.”

State incentives are fueling growth in solar power across Minnesota and Shockoconger noted that in the summer, the state generates more power from the sun than any other. However, in the winter, snow has to melt away before the sun can reach the panels, which can reduce production.

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Houston County News reporter

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