But don't take my word for it: talk to the brothers at St. John's Abbey in Minnesota. They're doing the Lord's work by building the biggest experimental solar farm in the upper Midwest. By the end of November, the abbey will have installed 1820 solar panels on 3.9 acres next to their campus. The panels will use a tracking system that turns them toward the sun, boosting juice by 15%. The system will generate 575,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, the equivalent of the power used by 65 homes.
Put that in local perspective: we could cover the old beanfield in the middle of which our house sits with similar panels and generate power for every house on the west side of Lake Herman.
Now sure, we have our cloudy spells, just like we have our calm spells when wind turbines won't spin. But South Dakota's weather is a lot like Minnesota's—if I'm reading this map right, South Dakota actually has better solar potential than Minnesota, and the monks in Collegeville are making a go of solar. This fact sheet provided by St. John's Abbey says solar power is a great fit for our neck of the continent:
- Minnesota (and thus South Dakota) has better solar resource available than Germany, yet Germany leads the U.S. in solar energy production.
- Solar power depends on electronics, and electronics run better in cooler weather.
Nathan Franzen of Westwood Renewables, the Eden Prairie outfit helping the brothers get some sun, makes the sale for you shadowy skeptics:
Franzen said most people don't think Minnesota is a good area for solar energy technology, but it actually is.
"The main reason for that is that solar works more efficiently in cooler temperatures," said Franzen. "So if you take this solar system and put it in New Mexico, on the same sunny day, it will actually produce more in Minnesota because of the cooler temperatures than it will on a hot day in New Mexico" [Ambar Espinoza, "St. John's Abbey Gets Upper Midwest's Largest Solar Farm," Minnesota Public Radio, 2009.10.07].
Xcel Energy, the same folks greening the Metrodome with wind power, is supporting this solar project with a $2-million Renewable Development Fund grant.
And why are the Benedictine brothers so committed to getting their solar freak on?
The Benedictine tradition at Saint John's Abbey advocates a strong commitment to good stewardship of its resources. Incorporating solar energy to the campus's energy sources is the first major step in the Abbey's initiative to broaden and strengthen the monastic community's commitment to green energy-and to education.
Just two years ago, under then-president Br. Dietrich Reinhart, Saint John's University was a charter signatory of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment in 2007, which directs Saint John's to the ultimate goal of carbon neutrality as part of an ongoing commitment to good stewardship.
Saint John's Abbey and Saint John's University see themselves as responsible for the campus's natural environment and seek to take a leadership role in educational activities to promote environmental awareness, global thinking, and collaboration on the local level ["Saint John's Abbey Goes Solar! Construction on Solar Photovoltaic Project to begin in October 2009"].
Even conservatives can recognize that this kind of environmentalism isn't a secular humanist plot to destroy America. Local solar power, right alongside wind and other alternatives, is good Christian thinking: making the best use of the resources we have and doing good for the community.
p.s.: President Obama is announcing $3.4 billion in grants to promote smart-grid technology... exactly the kind of tech that will make distributed solar and wind generation more useful.
pp.s.: Not that you need any more reasons than local self-sufficiency and ending dependence on fossil fuels to say, "Go monks, go solar!" but you know that story fueled by Drudge and the new Freakonomics book that the last ten years have brought a cooling trend, meaning action on climate change is just silly? An independent statistical analysis finds that claim bogus. "The last 10 years are the warmest 10-year period of the modern record," said NOAA climate monitoring chief Deke Arndt. "Even if you analyze the trend during that 10 years, the trend is actually positive, which means warming" [Seth Boronstein, "Analysis Rejects 'Global Cooling' Claims," AP via MPR.org, 2009.10.26].