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PUC cites solar savings

Solar panel and battery storage equipment has been installed at Brainerd Public

Let it shine. 

Brainerd Public Utilities, using state and federal grants, has installed an array of solar panels on the roof of its offices on Highland Scenic Road in Baxter. 

The purpose, said Scott Sjolund, Brainerd Public Utilities technology supervisor, will be to cut back on peak electricity use times at the facility

“Ideally, it’s going to shave the peak with it, which saves the utility the most money and in turn helps us keep our rates down,” Sjolund said. 

Sjolund said the state, when asking for grant submissions, wanted whatever energy-saving project the utility could come up with. In addition to the solar panels, which were built by a Minneapolis company and installed by a Pine River company, a battery back-up unit has been installed by Silent Power in Baxter. 

A reason the grant was successful, Sjolund said, is because area businesses were used for the project. The total project cost is about $80,000. He said the money will be absorbed back into the area’s economy and help other people keep their jobs.

The solar panels help keep costs down at the utility not only by producing energy, but because there are less costs to deliver that energy. 

“It doesn’t get talked about much but it does cost a lot of money to transfer energy from these power plants that are distant,” Sjolund said.

Scott Magnuson, Brainerd Public Utilities’ acting superintendent, said the utility has looked at other areas to use solar power, such as for street lights, but none have proved to be cost effective. 

Another benefit of installing the solar panels and battery storage will be learning about the technology, Sjolund said, and relaying the information onto customers. 

Currently, there are only three customers using solar panels as an energy source, he said. 

“If we don’t know anything about it then we can’t be much help,” Sjolund said. 

What the utility does know, Sjolund said, is that adding renewable energy should be a secondary step for homeowners and small businesses. The first, he said, is energy conservation and efficiency. 

Brainerd Public Utilities’ future is open to more solar possibilities, Magnuson said. The array currently on the roof can be expanded, he said. 

While there’s certainly room to expand in the future, Sjolund said he sees the place of solar energy as part of an overall energy portfolio. 

“There isn’t a renewable energy out there that can do the whole thing,” Sjolund said. “The wind doesn’t blow all the time, the sun doesn’t shine all the time and water doesn’t flow all the time.”

MATT ERICKSON may be reached at or 855-5857.