St. John’s University’s 400-kilowatt solar farm
VOL. 24, NO. 9
is both a demonstration of the potential for
solar in Minnesota and a tool for educators.
by MIKE KOSHMRL
installation of what was then the Upper Mid-
west’s largest photovoltaic (PV) solar farm, a
400-kilowatt (k W) single-axis tracking system. It
covers nearly 4 acres of land, just down Interstate
Highway 94 from the town on which storyteller
Garrison Keillor based “Lake Wobegon.” To
the abbey, the solar farm is a high-profile way
to model sustainable living, which is historically
part of the monastic life. St. John’s University
( csbsju.edu), the abbey’s educational arm, also
had much to gain from the project. In 2007, St.
John’s was a charter signatory of the American
College and University Presidents’ Climate
Commitment (ACUPCC). Although the solar
farm’s production will not count toward its
ACUPCC commitment, the university hopes
it will spur interest and investment in renew-
able energy on campus. As a bonus, the solar
farm presents the university with a tremendous
opportunity to bolster curriculum on campus
and to educate the local community.
Proving solar’s Potential
If the solar farm was a boon for St. John’s, it
was conceived as a solar market jumpstart for
Westwood Professional Services (west
woodps.com, then known as Westwood Renewables), a Minnesota-based renewable energy
design and engineering firm, approached the
abbey with the proposal in early 2009. Founder
Mario Monesterio has more than three decades
of experience implementing solar energy systems
in the Upper Midwest. Until recently, he said, it’s
been slow going in Minnesota, which has just
under 3 megawatts in installed solar capacity.
Monesterio saw a large-scale installation as an
opportunity to raise the profile of solar energy in
Mike Koshmrl ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is SOLAR
TODAY’s editorial intern and a graduate student in
the University of Colorado’s journalism school. He is a
2007 graduate of St. John’s University.
Minnesota. A $2 million grant from Xcel Energy’s ( xcelenergy.com) Renewable Development
Fund gave him his chance. The ratepayer-funded
grant promotes renewable energy projects and
companies in the Xcel service area.
After some initial hesitation, St. John’s agreed
to go forward. It was a compelling pitch: The
abbey would host the system on its land, earning
leasing income while promoting PV technology
The 400-kilowatt St. John’s Abbey solar farm is located on 4 acres in a cornfield in Collegeville, Minn., just west of the main road entering St. John’s University campus.
br. Lew grObe, st. JOhN’s abbey