ST. JOSEPH -- A local electric company is now providing customers with renewable energy as part of their community solar project.

Stearns Electric has built 50, 410 watt solar panels that will produce a total of 20.5 Kilowatts of energy for their members to buy.

General Manager Rick Banke says the decision behind the project came after their members continue to ask about solar energy.

Stearns Electric Solar Panels (Photo: Alex Svejkovsky, WJON)

"The more we looked into it, the more we realized it's a more convenient, cost effective way for members who may be thinking of putting solar up on their own to simply purchase the output of a panel and accomplish the same goal without having to make the investment on their own," says Banke.

The Solar Panels will be housed at Stearns Electric and the company is responsible for all maintenance and repairs.

District Manager Dave Gruenes says Stearns Electric members can buy up to five solar panels for $1,300 per panel to provide energy over a 20 year period. He says in return, your electric bill will reduce about $5 dollars a month.

"On average a panel will generate about 530kw hours in a year, but you know it might cover about 1/12 of their electricity usage or a little less than that," says Gruenes.

Gruenes says if you move to another location in their service area, your panel output will move with you to your new account, and if you move off of their system you can transfer your panels output to another member, friend or the company will buy the panel back.

"When they sign up we have a formal contract for them, along with a question and answer piece, which talks about our buy back program if they move for what ever reason, and we would gladly sit down and talk to them and they can decide if it's a good deal for them," says Gruenes.

The company has already sold 14 of their 50 solar panels, which can be used to generate renewable energy for homes or businesses.

Banke says they are excited for what the project will bring and felt now was the right time for the Community Solar Project.

"This is our first entrance into something like this, our first little generator here, and obviously if our members want more than 50 panels over time, we would look at expanding this project," says Banke.

Stearns Electric plans to have the solar panels in full operation next month.


Crew at Stearns Electric are putting in the lines for the new solar panels. (Photo: Alex Svejkovsky, WJON)