- Associated Press - Sunday, January 15, 2017

COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. (AP) - Large solar farms were relatively rare in Minnesota when the first solar panels were erected in a field near St. John's University in 2009, but much has changed in the past seven years.

The solar farm already expanded once in 2014, the St. Cloud Times (http://on.sctimes.com/2igENCf) reported. Now it has added a third phase called the Orion Community Solar Garden, which is six times larger than each of the first two phases.

The new panels started producing electricity earlier this month despite recent snowy weather. The 3 megawatts covers 23 acres of land owned by St. John's Abbey and will generate enough electricity to power more than 500 homes. St. Johns will provide about 19 percent of the university’s electricity needs. And in sunny summer days could produce as much as 90 percent of the campus’ power.

St. John's Abbey and University both are very interested in what we can in terms of renewable energy,” said Brother Benedict Leuthner, treasurer for the Order of St. Benedict.

The solar farm corresponds to the Benedictine values of caring for the Earth and also fits with the university’s goal to reduce its carbon footprint.

Compared to its first phase in 2009 with bulky panels, solar technologies have improved and are now razor thin.

“They’re just more efficient, more cost effective than they were before,” Leuthner said.

Leuthner said while he doesn’t expect the solar farm to grow larger than its current 27 acres, he said the university and abbey remain interested in renewable energy, including the task of energy storage.

“If a new technology comes out, or something better comes out, we’ll look at that,” Leuthner said. “We’re interested in continually to provide education opportunities for students as things develop.”

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Information from: St. Cloud Times, http://www.sctimes.com

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