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School district, BSU, Sanford eye joint solar project

BEMIDJI -- A renewable energy company and a trio of high-profile Bemidji organizations might collaborate on a solar farm.

Wayzata-based National Renewable Solutions is conducting a feasibility study for a hoped-for 8-10 megawatt solar farm in the Bemidji area. Waiting on the results of the study are Bemidji Area Schools, Bemidji State University, and Sanford Bemidji, who could benefit from the project and are tentatively interested in it.

The farm could generate thousands of renewable energy credits for the university, school district or hospital -- or a utility such as Otter Tail Power or a project financier -- and, maybe, knock a couple bucks off their electricity bills.

Representatives from all four organizations met late last month to discuss the farm and check out maps of a few possible sites, but the project is still only defined in broad strokes and may not happen at all.

“It is very exciting -- but we need to understand it better first,” said Lindsey Wangberg, Sanford Bemidji’s marketing director.

Parts of the project still up in the air include: whether National Renewable Solutions would build the solar farm, how much it would cost, where the money to build it would come from, who would own the panels and land, where the panels and land might be built, who would keep the generated energy credits, whether any of the three Bemidji organizations considering the project would put up money for the farm’s construction, and whether they’d even necessarily save utility money in the first place.

“Getting to a financial structure on a solar project so that it works for everybody is difficult,” said Patrick Pelstring, president and CEO of National Renewable Solutions. He and other company staff had a positive meeting with Otter Tail Power staff in mid-December, Pelstring said, but he didn’t go into specifics.

BSU is one of hundreds of colleges and universities that signed an international climate agreement, and spokesperson Scott Faust said the university could use the renewable energy credits produced by the proposed project to indicate a shift away from fossil fuels. The university has spent about $675,000 on electricity in 2017, and the farm might trim that figure.

“It’s really just an idea at this point,” Faust said of the project. “But the university is interested in learning more.”

National Renewable Solutions staff hope to finish their feasibility study in February.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

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