Hot Off the Presses: Owners of Kerkhoven Banner See the Light

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The Kerkhoven Banner is one of the only newspapers in Minnesota that can say it’s powered by solar energy. Ted and Kari Jo Almen, owners of the Banner, think that their conversion to solar is front page news and so do we!

Making solar installations more accessible and affordable for business and homeowners across Minnesota has long been a priority for Fresh Energy.  Over the years, we’ve worked with utilities and policymakers to modernize interconnection standards, keep monthly fixed charges low, and design smart rates that encourage energy efficiency and solar installations. We’re excited to see how our policy work has given Minnesotans more clean energy options.

Ted and Kari Jo have been proponents of clean energy for years, but they needed a gentle nudge from their three kids Jordan, Spencer, and Madeline, to bring solar energy home to the Banner’s offices in downtown Kerkhoven, a west-central Minnesota town.

“I guess our kids have enlightened us a little to the fight for the earth,” said Ted.

Fortunately for Ted and Kari Jo, they raised clean energy advocates who know how to get things done. Spencer, their oldest son, works for an organization that builds green energy projects, so he was well equipped to help them determine their project’s feasibility.

“It’s not really difficult calculus,” said Spencer. “It’s pretty obvious if you have an open, sunny space that isn’t being used, especially if there is an electrical meter nearby. From there it was just reaching out to a few installers to compare offers.”

As it would happen, the Banner’s office building, like many commercial spaces in Greater Minnesota, was a picture-perfect fit for solar installation. The building has a large, flat roof, and there are no trees or buildings nearby to obstruct sunlight. After months of scoping, planning, and crunching numbers, Ted and Kari Jo were ready to give their project the green light. MNSolar, a New London-based company, began installation late last year and in no time the Banner was capturing rays and accumulating kilowatt-hours. Thanks to the Banner’s ideal setting, the new solar project will have a significant impact. According to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Information Administration, the environmental impact of the Banner switching to solar will be the equivalent of saving 523.72 tons of carbon over 30 years – approximately the same amount of carbon emissions for 58,787 gallons of gasoline.

The location is so ideal, in fact, that Spencer estimates the Banner’s new system will produce more electricity than the newspaper needs, ultimately resulting in a modest payment from Otter Tail Power Company. Folks in the Kerkhoven area are taking notice of the Banner’s shiny new panels, and Ted and Kari Jo have been fielding questions from other business owners and community members who are interested in learning how solar energy can work for them.

“This is one little thing that we can do –– we’re not going to save the world with our little project, but if enough people take little steps it will make a big impact,” said Ted. “I would love to see our project be a showcase for others.” 

At Fresh Energy, we’re continuing to advocate for more solar generation and more ambitious solar goals across the state.  The Kerkhoven Banner is a wonderful example of a family-owned business leading the charge for solar in their town – a smart investment for their business and the environment.

Check out the original story from Kerkhoven Banner reporter Jordan Almen.