Steele-Waseca Cooperative Electric (SWCE) constructed a 250-panel solar array on the property of the co-op’s headquarters in Owatonna in 2015.

An innovative approach to community solar has been developed to drive down the up-front cost for SWCE members to participate. The Sunna (pronounced SOO-nah) Project allows any member to subscribe to the solar community program, and in return, be allocated the energy produced by their subscribed panel(s) to offset their monthly electric bill. To participate in The Sunna Project, members need to subscribe for (1) 410-watt solar panel for $170, and participate in the co-op’s 16-hour Storage Water Heater program.

SWCE members, who wish to subscribe for a solar panel, but not participate in The Sunna Project, can pay $1,225 for their panel and also earn the subscribed energy production allocation. Any member wishing to subscribe for additional panels will pay $1,225 per panel.  Members are limited to the equivalent number of panels that would produce their average annual energy usage.  The Sunna Project at SWCE is being promoted by The Minnesota Project, a non-profit group that promotes sustainability, go to  to read their article.

sunna project logo

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The Wellspring renewable wind energy program is a voluntary program that offers wind-generated electricity to co-op members. Electricity provided by wind generation is a coordinated effort between Great River Energy and its 28 distribution coops.

Currently, wind energy for the Wellspring program comes from the Chandler Hills Wind Farm, the Trimont Area Wind Farm and the G. McNeilus Wind Farm.  Since SWCE is one of the 28 distribution coops of Great River Energy, SWCE members can elect to buy electricity from the Wellspring program.

Members can buy 100 kWh blocks at $0.20 per block. (A typical SWCE residential account uses 1,100 kWh per month.) Members who sign up for Wellspring will have a minimum of one-year commitment to the program. The additional amount for participation in the Wellspring program will be added to your monthly electric bill.

To join the Wellspring program, please email or call us at 507-451-7340.

Minnesota’s Net Metering Policy

Minnesota is one of many states that encourage small renewable energy systems to be installed at residences and businesses. According to Minnesota Statute 216B.164, all utilities shall buy back any excess energy that reaches the distribution grid produced by a qualifying facility having less than 40 kW capacity at the average retail energy rate for the applicable rate schedule. This means for any wind or solar system with a total capacity size of less than 40 kW and installed at an existing SWCE service location, SWCE will buy the excess energy produced by the renewable system at an average retail energy rate.

For renewable systems at a capacity of 40 kW or larger, SWCE will still buy back the excess power produced by the renewable system that reaches the grid. However, the amount that the power is bought back is at avoided cost. Avoided cost is less than half the amount of average retail energy rate.

Interconnecting Renewable to the Distribution Grid

SWCE currently has over 1 MW of renewable systems interconnected to the distribution grid. The combination of 50+ small wind and solar systems produce an approximated total of 1,100,000 kWh per year. When comparing the amount of interconnected renewable energy production to the total utility energy sales, SWCE leads the state in renewable systems penetration.

SWCE will attempt to accommodate the interconnection of all member renewable projects. All distributed generation projects including renewable systems are to follow the State of Minnesota Interconnection Process for Distributed Generation Systems. This document outlines the process, timelines, technical requirements and cost ownership to interconnect a renewable system to the distribution grid. Due to the high penetration of renewable systems in parts of SWCE’s system, some renewable system projects may require additional engineering studies to determine what electrical grid changes need to occur to safely interconnect additional generation.

SWCE procedure for interconnecting renewable systems along with the State of Minnesota Interconnection Process for Distributed Generation Systems documents can be found under Documents and Forms. To initiate any interconnection of a renewable system, SWCE requires the Interconnection Application to be completely filled out and returned to SWCE along with any applicable non-refundable application fees. You may contact Steve Nordahl ( 507-451-7340 with any generic renewable questions you may have.

Production Data on Small Solar and Wind Generation

SWCE has been tracking the production of the small wind and solar system interconnected to the SWCE’s distribution grid since 2002. On average a 39 kW wind turbine produces between 50,000 – 60,000 kWh in a year. The production can vary depending on the wind conditions of the site and the weather conditions throughout a year. A 10 kW solar system will produce on average 13,000 kWh per year. Keep in mind solar system produce significantly more during summer months than winter months. For wind systems, energy production is the lowest in the summer compared to the other season.

SWCE recommends that members do their research when considering installing a renewable system. While there are many reputable renewable contractors, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Cost recovery fee provides fairness between distributed generation systems and fellow members
Fee only applies to distributed generation systems starting on or after Jan. 1, 2016

Earlier this year the state legislature sought to return a level of fairness to how the electric distribution grid is paid for, by authorizing electric cooperatives and municipal utilities to charge a cost recovery fee on distributed generation facilities (wind and solar). The fee will allow electric co-op’s, like Steele-Waseca Cooperative Electric, to recover some of the cost shift that occurs between distributed generators and the rest of the membership.

There is a fixed cost to deliver electric power to our members; the poles, the wires, the equipment and people that get the power to you and keep it reliable and safe. This fixed cost is recovered in two ways, through a monthly fixed charge and as a portion of your kilowatt hour (kWh) rate. Putting some of the fixed cost within the kWh rate was done on the assumption that the more energy a member used, the more demand they put on the grid and the more they should pay to maintain it. Distributed generators demand as much (or more) from the grid than the rest of the membership. But, because they offset some or all of their energy usage, they no longer pay their fair share to maintain the grid.

The intent of the cost recovery fee is just that, recover some of the cost shift and ensure that cost causers are also cost payers. The fee is based on calculating the size of the distributed generation facility, the usage variation among members, and the unique nature of the electric cooperative. The cost recovery fee is applied equitably on a per kW basis with a state-wide allowance of 3.5 kW for electric cooperatives (the state average for size of rooftop solar facilities is between 3.5 kW and 5 kW).

The cost recovery fee is not punitive, and will return a level of fairness to how the electric distribution grid is paid. As at-cost energy providers, electric cooperatives believe that cost causers should be cost payers. This fee goes a long way toward returning to that equitable approach.