Home » Huge solar energy project coming to Winona State University


Reducing energy reliance results in lower electrical bills and benefits the environment through resource conservation. The larger the usage, the larger the impact. So, when it comes to university campuses, the opportunity for significant energy reduction is heavy in both the investment required and the rewards achieved for the campus and the planet.

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A partnership between national construction and energy services firm McKinstry and Winona State University (WSU) with campuses in Winona and Rochester has broken ground on a comprehensive $12.3 million sustainability and solar energy project.

Related: Portland State University’s new hall qualifies for LEED gold

A parking lot with solar panel parking sheds.

As the largest energy performance contract project in the Minnesota State University System, it will set an example for energy efficiency with an estimated annual cost savings of $685,000. That represents a 23.8% reduction in utility usage and costs with a total savings of $26 million over the project’s 25-year lifetime. So while the upfront investment is large, the long-term savings are more than double that amount. 

A parking lot with solar panel parking sheds.

The key energy-saving feature of the project is the installation of six solar panel systems at different buildings on campus including Haake Hall, Helble Hall, Integrated Wellness Complex, Kirkland Hall, McCown Gym, and Wabasha Recreation Center. Additionally, there will be four solar carports in the Integrated Wellness Complex parking lot. 

A parking lot with solar panel parking sheds.

Planners say, “The 1.4 MW project will generate almost 1.7 MWh of renewable energy each year, making it the largest solar energy system of its kind at any Minnesota State campus. The on-site solar PV will provide nearly 10% of WSU’s annual electricity consumption while reducing CO2 emissions by 9,670,000 pounds, which is equivalent to driving the average passenger vehicle more than 11 million miles.”

A parking lot with solar panel parking sheds.

Projects aimed at sustainability are nothing new to the Winona State system. In fact, it has developed the Leading Energy Savings and Sustainability (LESS) initiative that incorporates campus-wide changes such as 21,000 lighting upgrades throughout the campus’s buildings and parking areas, upgrades to the backup generator system, the installation of destrat fans and a focus on water conservation with the replacement of every faucet, toilet and showerhead on campus.   

A parking lot with solar panel parking sheds.

“We’re excited to partner with McKinstry on this sustainability and solar energy project to reduce WSU’s environmental impact while dramatically improving campus energy and water efficiency,” said Nathan Engstrom, WSU’s Campus Sustainability and Planning Director and LESS Project Manager. “This initiative will remove $7.5 million of deferred maintenance from the university’s backlog, allowing us to reduce maintenance expenditures, modernize and improve facilities, increase comfort and aesthetics, and – most importantly – improve the educational experience for our students, faculty, and staff.”

A parking lot with solar panel parking sheds.

The project has an expected completion date of August 2022.

+ McKinstry and Winona State University 

Images via Winona State University



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