By Maury Wrubleski, Discover Humboldt
[First published at Discover Humboldt local news page – used with permission]
An impressive array of three banks of photovoltaic solar panels tilts to the southern skies on the grounds of St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster.
The new installation went in on the first weekend of June 2021 in an effort to reduce the carbon footprint of the Benedictine abbey’s operation.
The field-length of solar cells rows will reduce the abbey’s grid usage of electricity by around 50 percent, explains Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB. Power from the units will furnish the abbey proper and not St. Peter’s College at this point.
“We’re expecting to cut our power bill in half,” explains Novecosky. “We’re using Net Metering that feeds into our solar panels. If we don’t use all the energy, it goes to Sask Power, and then we can draw it back at nighttime when the sun is not shining.”
The 100-kilowatt array is the largest allowable unit in the province on Sask Power’s Net Metering program and would be enough to light up 12 to 15 conventional households.
The installation was completed by Sundawg Solar, an independent solar company from Saskatoon. The 236 solar modules in the array make up one of the largest installations the company has done, explains co-owner Callen Goebel. While larger production capacities would be possible, the energy produced beyond 100 megawatts would be forfeited to the Sask Power grid with limited return as the regulations stand now.
“We analyzed their power consumption over the last few years, and the abbey consumed 292 megawatt hours of energy,” Goebel explains. “If you take that into consideration, that’s probably the energy used by 30 small houses. The array we’ve put up will produce around 150 megawatt hours.”
Goebel explains that the power used during the sunny parts of the day goes directly into the electrical needs of the abbey. Any excess will be sent out to the grid for use by other consumers in the area. Ultimately, the solar energy produced at the Abbey will reduce the contribution to the province’s electrical grid by non-renewable driven power plants. Goebel uses the analogy of a water system where sometimes excess will flow out, but when needed, it can be drawn back in.
Changes in the Net Metering program from the province initially put a damper on the solar industry in the province, sending some companies packing. With the announcement of $5,000 in federal funding for home improvements as an economic jump start, Goebel says he’s seen a resurgence in interest that has kept him – and partners Shane Weidman and Ryan Pitka – increasingly busy.
“That’s really increased traffic to our sites and people inquiring about it because a system can range from $10,000 to $50,000. Knocking $5,000 off of that definitely perks people’s interest.”
In the abbey’s case, it was less about incentives than it was about taking advantage of improved technology and efficiency, and actively working toward being strong environmental stewards.
“Pope Francis put out an encyclical five years ago called ‘Care for Creation’ (Laudato Si’) and he has been pushing a lot toward using solar energy and caring for the natural resources,” says Novecosky.
The Abbot notes that St. Peter’s Abbey will see a total return on its investment in a decade or so, after which the power produced by the abbey’s solar installation will be free and clear.
Numerous residences and businesses in the area have installed solar panels to offset electricity costs, but all of them are dwarfed by the impressive array nestled on the south side of St. Peter’s Abbey.