First Minnesota Solar Congress brings solar community together

Solar Congress participants attend session to learn about battery storage.

Last month, more than 40 solar supporters from across the state joined together for Minnesota’s first Solar Congress. The event was an opportunity for attendees to learn, share stories, and celebrate solar energy in the state. Hosted at the University of Minnesota’s West Central Research & Outreach Center in Morris, the Solar Congress had a special focus on solar opportunities in rural communities, for farms, businesses, and homes.

The day kicked off with opening remarks from Solar United Neighbors of Minnesota Program Director Virginia Rutter. She talked about the launch of the Minnesota program just last fall and the work it has done so far in the state to start six bulk purchase groups throughout the state.

“The Solar Congress was right in my wheelhouse,” said Ingrid Schwingler. “I had such a great time! I learned a ton about Minnesota’s solar landscape and met some really cool folks.”

The Congress divided into breakout sessions. Rutter led a solar 101 information session that guided attendees through the process of going solar. Rob Davis, Director of Fresh Energy’s Center for Pollinators in Energy, led a discussion of how to incorporate plant-life into solar development.

After lunch, attendees again broke into two sessions. Solar United Neighbors’ Emma Rodvien discussed how homes and small businesses can pair solar with battery storage. Fritz Ebinger of the Clean Energy Resource Teams led a session that explained how farms can use solar to improve their bottom line.

Congress participants gather around an electric car.

The Congress then reconvened for a panel discussion headed by three farmers, Jim VanDer Pol, Richard Handeen, and Doug Popp, and small business owner Arlen Runia. They all have installed solar on their farm or business, and they talked about how it has impacted their business since the installation.

Doug Popp also has small wind on his farm, but he would recommend farmers choose solar. “There’s no maintenance with the solar, so it’s much easier,” Popp said. “We [farmers] already turn energy from the sun into our other crops, whether it’s corn, soybeans, or animals. This is just farming the sun in another way.”

The day ended with a tour of the West Central Research & Outreach Center’s solar installations. Eric Buchanan, Renewable Energy Scientist, walked participants around both the solar thermal and solar photovoltaic installations that are on-site.

Solar United Neighbors is grateful to the West Central Research and Outreach Center, Minnesota’s Farmers Union, Renewing the Countryside, University of Minnesota, Morris, Clean Energy Resource Teams, and the Western Chapter of the Sustainable Farming association for sponsoring the Solar Congress.

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