How much is the sunshine worth in North Dakota? For Northern Plains Electric Cooperative and Dakota Valley Electric Cooperative, it was worth $947 in the past year.
The two cooperatives worked together to build a $14,000 solar power-generating system capable of producing 6.56 kilowatts at peak output times, or an estimated 10,000 kilowatt hours in a year. The system has been online for a year, offering a peek at what kind of potential solar power might have in central North Dakota.
According to the Energy Information Administration, North Dakota has very little solar electricity generation, even though there is abundant sunshine.
The Northern Plains and Dakota Valley project is of the size that would be similar to something someone would put on a house. Ashten Breker, systems engineer at Northern Plains, said the purpose of the project was not to power the office in Carrington where the system is set up.
“We set it up so we could show the members a real life solar project,” she said.
The cooperatives received help $10,000 in grants through USDA Rural Development, the North Dakota Department of Commerce, then split the remaining expenses.
In its first year in service, the system generated 8.7 megawatt hours — or 8,700 kilowatt hours — which is worth $947. Katie Ryan-Anderson, the manager of member communications for Northern Plains, said the project is on target to begin returning on the investment in 20 to 30 years.
The generation from the system is tracked in real time, so anyone can see the results by visiting http://egauge14462.egaug.es/kiosk2.html.
“They can see that it’s putting out more power if it’s sunny than when it’s overcast,” Breker said.
They also can see if the system is down for repairs and thus not producing. The cooperatives also have been open about maintenance and repair costs. Strong winds damaged some of the system components last year. Breker said three or four $65 reflector panels and several $12 struts had to be replaced.
“Our goal is to learn about these advantages and disadvantages on behalf of our members. That way, our members can know what to expect before investing in solar,” Ryan-Anderson said.
Breker said the system has produced on par with what was expected of it, given the latitude. But the project also has provided knowledge about solar power to cooperative members.
While several members have solar generating systems, Breker said no new systems have been built by members since the project stated. However, she fields a lot of calls from people interested in their options.
The project will continue indefinitely, so people can continue to evaluate whether solar power might be a good fit for their homes or businesses, Breker said.