Glenn Gelhar, Clarkfield

Self-reliance and family farming pride

Glenn Gelhar never thought he would find himself back on the farm where he grew up. During his youth Glenn put as much distance between himself and the small ridgetop farm just south of Clarkfield, Minn. as possible. However, after a successful career in health care, Glenn returned home to the land that his ancestors have worked since 1880.

A Heritage of Conservation

Keeping the farm in the family is important to Glenn, and taking steps toward conservation is key to that vision. He’s transitioning his family’s acreage to organic crops, part of a conservation plan strongly supported by his 90-year-old mother and late father. “I think he’d be proud of what I’ve done with the place,” Glenn says, reflecting on how in decades past his father used the wind turbine, originally used to pump water for livestock, to generate electricity. Glenn has recently added a 20kW solar array with his father’s memory in mind.

Glenn hopes that the steps that he’s taking will help convince his sons, living on the West Coast, to move back to rural Minnesota as the next generation of Gelhar farmers. With his three-legged dog, Ole Olson, and a couple of cats in tow, Glenn will share his plan for self-reliance with anyone who stops by. He says that battery storage and a bed and breakfast may soon occupy the century-old granary, which still houses original grain-moving equipment.

Bumps in the Gravel Road

Glenn’s work has not been without setbacks. A faulty install of his solar panels by an unlicensed contractor cost him thousands of dollars, forced him to redo the entire installation, and significantly changed his financial plan for the project. And Glenn says that his rural electric cooperative, Minnesota Valley Cooperative Light & Power, hasn’t been the easiest for him to work with either. The co-op has advocated for a “net metering cost recovery fee” — a monthly fixed charge on co-op member-owners who’ve invested in small wind and solar installations for their homes or farms. This fee would lengthen the payoff timeframe for Glenn’s array. That got Glenn involved, not just for his own interests, but for the future of energy choice in rural Minnesota. At a state Senate hearing in St. Paul where he went to testify, Glenn says that the senator running the hearing made it clear he “didn’t want to hear from a bunch of farmers.”

Rural co-ops and their allies in the Minnesota legislature continue to push through the legislation that would let them impose high mandatory fees on solar and wind owners — with little regard for those most impacted, like Glenn. But despite the setbacks and challenges, Glenn remains a strong champion for on-farm renewable energy generation. Self-reliance and local cooperation are values that Minnesota’s rural electric cooperatives were built upon.

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