By K Kaufman
It is a brisk, sunny morning in November, and Don Harrod, the village administrator of Minster, Ohio, is standing in the middle of the town’s 4.2-megawatt (MW) solar field, talking about why plans to expand the project won’t include community solar — at least not yet.
The village of just under 3,000 residents had always envisioned phased additions to the project, which also has 7 MW of battery storage. Since the batteries went online in April of 2016, the combined revenue streams from the installation have saved the town’s municipal utility about half a million dollars. Community solar seemed a logical next step, Harrod said, to allow individual residents and small businesses to buy into the benefits of solar without having to put panels on their roofs.
That is, it seemed logical until Dannon, Minster’s top employer and electricity user, decided to add a 280,000-square-foot distribution center to its already-massive factory — the company’s largest yogurt manufacturing plant in North America — and then power the new facility with clean energy. At that point, the community solar project — aka Phase 2 — and its additional 7 MW of storage, became a de facto commercial installation.
“We were talking 4.2 MW of additional solar, and that was about what it would take to operate the distribution center,” Harrod said. The entire installation will be tied into to Minster’s distribution system, but Dannon will be buying all the power, he said.
As utilities large and small integrate solar and storage into their systems, the Village of Minster stands out as a practical case study in the innovation that can occur in a small, rural community with a savvy approach to business development and a surprisingly diverse industrial sector. For example, in addition to Dannon, the town is also home to Nidec (pronounced nee-deck) Minster, which, Harrod said, produces machine presses that stamp out 95 percent of the pop tops on soda and other beverage cans in the United States.
The town’s first solar-plus-storage project has been so successful — earning Minster national attention and a raft of awards — because it was designed to be privately funded and produce multiple revenue streams. The concept of storage providing multiple capabilities and revenue options — called “value stacking” — has been much discussed in the energy sector, but few have been able to make it work as effectively as Minster.
The town’s solar plus storage has improved overall power quality, helped it shave peak demand and associated critical peak pricing, and defer expensive grid upgrades, while also selling grid support services into PJM Interconnection’s frequency response market. PJM is the grid operator for 13 Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states, including Ohio.
“Minster is the first small public utility to pair solar and storage,” said Nick Esch, Senior Research Associate at SEPA. “The town has really become a model for the kind of public-private partnerships that will advance the use of storage. The partnership enables value stacking, which includes savings for Minster and revenue — from PJM’s frequency response market — for Half Moon.”
An additional 19 MW of storage — Phase 3 — is also being developed, and will be built concurrently with the commercial project. Besides taking advantage of economies of scale, Harrod said, the goal here is to create a local microgrid that can be used to ensure power — and improved reliability — for critical facilities and local businesses in the event of an outage.