Renewable Energy

To meet our current energy needs, Saint John’s has invested and continues to look towards creating renewable energy on campus.  These projects not only provide our campus with clean energy, but also offer the chance for students, faculty, and staff to learn about and research these new technologies.


When completed in December 2009, the first portion of the Saint John’s Abbey Energy Farm was the largest ground-mounted photovoltaic array in Minnesota.  The solar panels were installed on 3.9 acres of the Abbey's land. To maximize efficiency, the array is made of single-axis tracking panels which use GPS to follow the sun as it moves across the sky. These panels provided 4% of our annual energy needs and could offset up to 20% of peak power requirements.  The solar farm was made possible by a two million-dollar grant from Xcel Energy's Renewable Development Fund, Saint John’s Abbey, and Westwood Renewables.

In November 2014, the initial solar field was expanded. A row of fixed panels was installed on both the north and south sides of the existing solar field. The additional panels provided an additional 181 kilowatts of capacity. With the addition, the solar field provided 6% of our energy annually, and up to 30% in peak conditions. Approximately 600 tons of CO2 emissions are avoided each year as a result of this investment in renewable energy.

With the success of the first two solar installations, a 23-acre community solar garden was completed in January 2017. This addition, named the Orion Community Solar Garden, provides six local organization with 5,100,000 kWh of solar energy every year. Saint John's purchases 40% of this energy which supplies 13.4% of our annual energy needs. In total this means that 18.75% of our annual energy needs are provided by solar energy.

The possibility of research is another great benefit of having a solar field on campus. Having both fixed and tracking panels in the same field is a unique occurrence, and it offers the the chance for students, faculty, and other interested individuals to view a direct comparison between the efficiencies of the two technologies.

Fun Fact: One of our alumni, Steve Fait ’94, was a writer and producer of The Man with the Golden Sun , which was created for the “Putting the Sun to Work for Minnesota” film contest, presented by Solar Works for Minnesota and Environment Minnesota.


Research has been conducted to determine if a large 2.0 MW wind turbine would be a viable option for energy production at Saint Johns. Unfortunately, it was determined that our campus is near the minimum level of wind speed required for this type of turbine making it an unlikely option. Although a 2.0 MW turbine would not be feasable at our campus with current technology, smaller scale turbines could be a source of energy in the future.

The St. Cloud Times wrote about us!

Other on-campus energy sources:

Co-generation steam

As the on-campus Power Plant heats and cools our buildings, it also creates approximately one-fourth (25%) of the electricity consumed on campus.  Co-generation means there are two uses for the steam. The primary role of steam production is to heat and cool our buildings; the electricity is a side benefit.  Our boilers produce high pressure steam, which spins turbines to generate electricity. The turbines drop the steam from high pressure steam down to the low pressure steam that is used by campus buildings.

In the field of sustainability the saying goes, “you can't reduce what you can't measure.” Tracking and monitoring resource usage, behaviors, and system output are critical aspects in helping make Saint John’s a more sustainable campus.

Here are some of the ways to see how Saint John’s is doing:

Green House Gas Inventory
An inventory of emissions from electricity consumption, heating and cooling, vehicle fleet operations, business travel, waste management practices, refrigerants, fertilizer use, waste-water treatment and daily commuting. Our most recent GHG inventory was completed in 2014. 

Approved Sustainable Revolving Loan Fund Projects
A detailed review of the cost savings, carbon savings, maintenance savings and auxiliary benefits of projects funded by the Sustainable Revolving Loan Fund.  The table below outlines the savings for each project on an annual basis.

Project Date Completed Years since completion (updated at Fiscal Year) kWh Annually lbs CO2 Saved Annually Tons CO2 Saved Annually Money Saved Annually
Pool Lights 8/24/2010 7 10,926 14,130 7.07 $4,659
Sophomore Lounges 1/12/2011 6 28,853 37,314 18.66


Edelbrock Attic Insulation 2/10/2012 5 7,325 3,361 1.68 $160
Refectory LED's 5/15/2012 5 3,764 4,868 2.43 $264
Sophomore Corridors Spring 2011 6 TBD TBD TBD $2800
Guild Hall Gym lighting 7/1/2015 2 265,780 343,719 171.86 $26,578
Total as of July 2017 316,648 402,947 202 $42,259


Campus Sustainability Survey
A survey taken in May 2011 which measures the current awareness, literacy, and habits of CSB/SJU students and employees regarding sustainability issues.

2009 Waste and Recycling Audit
A comprehensive waste and recycling assessment from 2009. Many of the recommendations made in this document have since been accomplished. Look for an updated assessment soon.

Recyclemania Results
A competition among 600 colleges and universities throughout the nation to see who can recycle the most and waste the least.

Live Electricity Usage
An up-to-the-minute reading on how much electricity our campus is using. (Must be opened with Internet Explorer)

Energy Challenge Results
A two month long conservation competition among student housing buildings to achieve the greatest percentage reduction in energy use.

Live Solar Farm Data
Live and historical energy production data from the Saint John’s Solar Farm.

Saint John's Solar Farm

  • See Live Solar Data


The solar installations at Saint John's are the first highly visible step in achieving carbon neutrality. It demonstrates our commitment to the American College and Universities President's Climate Commitment and to the Benedictine value of stewardship. Saint John's hopes this large scale project will pave the way for clean energy in Minnesota. 


The solar panels will be used by several departments on campus, especially environmental studies, for research. Several classes have toured the field as a part of their studies. The Saint John's Outdoor University has developed an energy class for K-12 students and others.

Tours of the solar field are available for all types of groups, at varying levels of technical knowledge. If you are interested in a guided tour, there are associated fees depending on group size, length of tour and type of group. Complete the solar tour request form to begin the process of scheduling a tour for your group and we will correspond with you about the details.

Please note that you are welcome to visit the solar farm on your own at any time. The area is fenced off and while you are not able to walk right up to the panels for safety reasons, you are welcome to walk the perimeter. There is currently one panel with information about the solar farm posted on site and plans for an educational kiosk are in the works.

Minimal Impact

About 80% of the land will not be disturbed and native prairie grasses and flowers have been planted around the panels to restore the land and assist with water absorption. Their are no concrete footings at the base of the panels, decreasing material use. Since the solar installations require no permanent fixtures and have no long-term environmental impacts on the sites the installations could theorietically be deconstructed and the land could become farm fields again.


With 36,436 modules on 27.06 acres, the solar array will produce 2,855,000 kWh every year for Saint John's. This will account for 18.75% of Saint John's energy needs on an annual basis and can produce up to 88.3% of peak suumer power needs in perfect conditions. Athlough the first Completed in November 2009, the Saint John's solar array is 4 times larger than the previous largest array in Minnesota.