MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Minnesota farm is helping people power their homes and businesses with solar energy without having to put panels on their roof.

Eichten’s Cheese Farm in Chisago County is about to become one of Minnesota’s biggest community solar gardens.

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For several decades, the Eichten’s family farm has prided itself on one rich Minnesota product.

“I guess over 30 years I’ve been making cheese,” said owner Ed Eichten.

But along with the cream, recently the farm began churning out something greener.

“Our electricity bill always kind of shocked us every month, so we were trying to think of a way we could cut electricity costs,” he said.

Two years ago, Eichten had 160 solar panels installed behind his house.The panels turn sunlight into electricity, which is converted on his farm and piped straight into his factory.

Part of making cheese is having really good refrigeration. Eichten says his 13 compressors and coolers comprise most of his energy usage. His solar panels are taking some of the weight.

“They’re helping immensely [to] take the bite out of the electricity bill for cooling all this stuff,” he said.

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The panels produce one third of Eichten’s energy, saving him about $500 a month.

Now his land could help others reap the same rewards. With the help of Xcel and Innovative Power Systems, Eichten’s farm will house a 3,000-panel solar garden — enough to power 140 homes.

“Community members that don’t have the right roof line or just don’t like how the panels look have an opportunity to go solar without putting the panels on their property,” said Eric Pasi of Innovative Power Systems, a company that sells and installs solar panels.

There are costs to lease the panels. An average homeowner would pay $7,000 upfront with a payback in eight years, and they could expect considerable savings in the long run – up to $24,000 in 25 years. Plus, there are tax incentives.

Eichten expects to be completely in the black in six years. But for now, he sees the potential and wants others to bask in the savings, too.

“We know it works and if we can make it to help someone else, let’s do it,” Eichten said.

Anybody that’s in Xcel Energy territory can join the community solar garden. That would include people who rent, homeowners or business owners.

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Visit eichtenssolar.com for more information.