FISHER, Minn. — It’s evident from miles away that Mark Nisbet uses new energy technology to ensure his 147-year-old farmstead has a place in the future.
Solar panels border the grove that shelters the farmstead of the former North Dakota principal manager for Xcel Energy. Inside the trees, his electric car is parked in a garage near an old wooden granary.
Nisbet, who worked for Xcel Energy for nearly 40 years in a variety of positions, retired in January. During the 18 years he was principal manager for North Dakota Excel, he played a significant role in expanding the company’s wind energy expansion, which brought more than 600 megawatts of new wind projects to the state.
Born on a farm a mile from where he lives now, Nisbet has an appreciation for nature and feels a responsibility to take care of the environment.
As a child, he enjoyed seeing the ducks and geese in the nearby marshes, and as an adult, he began replacing dead trees in the farmstead grove with saplings.
“We’re on this planet. We have to take care of it,” Nisbet said.
Nisbet’s interest in “green” energy increased while working on the wind projects, and he plans to continue promoting finding ways to reduce the carbon footprint of humans.
“I’m still committed to green energy,” he said.
He enlisted the help of Ed Gruchalla and Paul Jensen, members of Citizens Local Energy Action Work Inc., a nonprofit organization in Fargo, to help him find a company that sells solar panels. In 2017, Nisbet had 136 4-feet by 6-feet glass panels installed on the south side of his farmstead. The solar panels, attached to a steel frame and stretching 150 feet, have an underground line through which the energy runs into Nisbet’s house.
Nisbet sees the $190,000 he paid for the solar panels as an investment. When he made the decision to buy them, he reasoned, the return would be more than if he had put money in the stock market, which often is volatile.
“If I am going to be here the rest of my life, it takes one more variable out of the equation,” he said.
But the investment in the panels is more than monetary, Nisbet noted.
“You have to be dedicated to this because you have to clean the snow off of the panels,” he said. Meanwhile, he had to replace a line that gophers chewed.
Overall, he is pleased with the performance of the solar panels.
“Over a year, these solar panels are zeroing out my bill,” Nisbet said, noting that in the late spring, summer and fall, the panels generate $300 worth of energy, and the remainder of the year, he pays that amount each month.
Nisbet also strives to reduce his carbon footprint and be energy efficient by driving his 2017 Chevrolet Bolt, at least when it’s practical. The car travels about 240 miles before it needs to be charged, so he uses it on short trips. Installation of more charging stations in North Dakota will increase the popularity of electric vehicles, he believes.
As technology advances, clean-energy barriers eventually will be overcome, Nisbet said. He plans to continue advocating for clean energy and being involved on the local level in discussions about ways to reduce reliance on energy derived from fossil fuels.
“Part of my green initiative is to encourage the utilities to stay involved, and to be part of the solution,” Nisbet said. "I think we can make a difference."