Panel power

RURAL SLAYTON – Since Jan. 4, Murray County has been receiving energy from the sun, enough to power 250 houses.

Minnesota-based renewable energy company Ecos Energy LLC opened the newest solar energy facility just outside of Slayton recently.

“It’s the largest solar installation in Minnesota to date,” said Slayton City Administrator/Clerk Josh Malchow. “We’re glad they picked the Slayton area, it gave us a lot of good press.”

The project covers an area equal to about seven-and-a-half football fields within the fenceline and has 7,040 30 by 60 inch solar modules that altogether produce about 1.6 megawatts of alternating current under optimum conditions.

“Construction began in October,” said Chris Little, director of development for the project. “We’re examining the fluctuations in wind and solar power.”

The idea is, solar power often operates when wind doesn’t and vice versa. By remotely monitoring the energy produced by the wind and solar facilities in the same area, Ecos and Xcel hope to find out if the two in conjunction can provide a consistent source of renewable energy.

According to Mark Ritter, grant administrator for Xcel Energy’s Renewable Development Fund, the project was designed to integrate solar and wind power and was located near Slayton to take advantage of the transformer and distribution network of the nearby wind farm.

“The profile is different for solar and wind,” Ritter said, “and the question is, can they complement each other.”

Xcel provided a $2 million grant for the project which will cover part of the estimated $4.7 million construction costs when certain engineering requirements have been met. The facility is both a pilot plant to test the feasibility of combining solar and wind energy, but it is a working production plant.

And best of all, it not going to bother anybody.

“It’s quiet and just sits there and does its thing,” Ritter said.