ST. CLOUD -- Pantown Brewing Company now has the distinction of being the first central Minnesota brewery entirely powered by solar energy.

Pantown, located at 408 37th Avenue North in St. Cloud, recently consulted with Champlin-based Plains Energy to install over 200 400-watt rooftop panels – totaling 88 kilowatts of solar power.

Greg Froelke, Project Developer with Plains Energy, says Pantown’s new solar setup is capable of completely powering the entire 4,200 sq. ft. brewery and taproom.

“It’s the equivalent of 955 gallons of gasoline not burned, or 21,000 miles not driven,” Froelke said. “It’s also offsetting about 95 tons of coal. So, not only is Pantown eliminating their electric bill, they’re doing all of that for the environment.”

Noel Johnson, co-owner of Pantown, originally began working with Plains Energy to explore solar energy as an option for an apartment complex he was developing in Sauk Rapids.

“I had reached out to Tesla,” Johnson explained. “We were considering putting a charging station in at the apartment building, and I thought, ‘well, if we do a charging station, we’re going to have to pay for the electricity,’ and that led to thinking about solar.”

“When I was talking to Greg about the apartment project, he said, ‘boy, Pantown might be a perfect fit for (solar),” Johnson added.

Johnson says the amount of electricity a brewery uses is no laughing matter.

“We use a lot of it,” he said. “In our brewing process, we’re bringing water up to temperature, and that’s done with gas and electric. And, most importantly, it’s how we keep our beer cold. It takes a lot of electricity to keep our brite tanks and kegs at a temperature not much above freezing.”

“Our energy costs are about double what we budgeted for when we opened Pantown,” Johnson admitted. “So, from a budget standpoint, (solar) will be helpful.”

The price tag of a solar panel installation appears cost prohibitive, with the average price per watt ranging from $2.50-3.50, but Froelke says government tax credits can cover around 50 percent of the installation process. The remaining balance is then paid back on a seven to 10 year repayment plan.

“If you’re paying an electric bill, then paying for the panels each month is really the same thing,” Froelke said. “Only, you won’t have an electric bill, because the sun takes care of that. For a while, you’re still paying about the same. We try to set it up so that (monthly payments) are about 20-percent less than the actual electric bill.”

“It’s a pretty good investment when you add it up over 30 years or more,” he added. “And then of course all the carbon offsets that go along with it. In this day and age, going solar is about more than just saving money.”

Johnson says switching to solar power matches the ethos of Pantown and the craft brewery industry as a whole.

“You see it in brewing– the idea of getting to zero waste,” Johnson explained. “We get done with our brewing process, and all of the spent grain – there’s not one ounce that gets thrown away. It goes to local farmers.”

“There are some really happy cows on local farms,” he added.

Johnson says the installation isn’t widely known yet, but the Pantown staff is excited about the decision.

“From the ground, you see nothing,” Johnson said. “There’s nothing taking up any precious ground space – especially inside city limits. But the staff knows about it. We had a meeting with our taproom team leads and said ‘this is what we have coming up,’ and the ones we told were extremely excited about it.”

“It’s a significant investment, but also I believe in that,” Johnson said. “You know, if we can do little things as individuals, and little things as a business, all of those little things can add up. This is us kind of doing our part.”

“I was in grabbing a beer in Pantown last week, and told somebody I was the guy who was working with the solar on the roof,” Froelke added. “And he said, ‘no kidding? Give this guy a beer! That makes me think they’re pretty excited.”

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