Months after the February completion of an extensive solar panel array on Pine River-Backus School District property, organizers and interested parties gathered Sept. 26 for a ribbon cutting at the panels following a presentation by organizers and a light lunch.

Organizers recounted the nearly seven year planning process that preceded the actual construction of the project in conjunction with Pequot Lakes School District and Central Lakes College campuses. The process was riddled with challenges including the loss of one of the original partners, bankruptcy of a potential investor to pay for the panels and legal hurdles.

Presenters explained that there was previously no framework for organizing a multi jurisdictional, multiple organization solar project like this and it took work for the group to actually create a process. Many presenters said the challenges and successes they discovered (dubbed the "Solar Coaster") would be, and currently are being used in other projects across the nation. Among other successes, the energy produced by the panels in the project has outpaced projections.

Presenters included Dr. Stacey Stockdill of EnSearch, Brigid Tuck of the University of Minnesota Extensions office, PR-B Superintendent Dave Endicott, Pequot Lakes Superintendent Chris Lindholm and board chair Kim Bolz-Andolshek, representatives of CLC, representatives of Sourcewell, Jason Edens formerly of RREAL, Minnesota Department of Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley, Doug Paulson with the Minnesota Department of Education, Tom Lillehei with Sourcewell and others.

The Region 5 Development Commission Solar Schools Project included 1,494.72 kilowatts of DC solar panels on five sites owned by Pine River-Backus School District, Pequot Lakes School District and Central Lakes College. The panels combined were projected to produce about 1,800,000 kilowatt-hours of energy a year and 40 million kilowatt-hours over 25 years. The project was completed in the late winter and early spring of 2019.