It’s cold in Minnesota, but the state has abundant and strong sunshine most of the year, so despite the snow factor, you should not be surprised that community solar programs—mini-power plants—are springing up there. Just this past week in Minnesota, SolarCity, the nation’s #1 solar power provider, and SunShare each made news with plans to build community solar power projects.
A 2013 law, implemented last year, requires the state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, to let customers buy their electricity from community solar gardens. California and Colorado are among the other states that have this type of program, but when completed, Minnesota’s new plan is expected to be the nation’s largest.
“If you could just choose solar energy, pay nothing more for it, and fix in a known power price for the future, why wouldn’t you?” says one local leader.
Electric customers who buy power through community solar projects save money. Community solar gives everyone a stake of clean and economical energy without having panels on their own roofs. The program is ideal for renters, lessees, and others who support solar development but either cannot (because of heavily shaded or unsuitable roofs, for example) or do not want to install their own solar hardware. Over half a million Minnesota apartment renters could be eligible.
Here’s how the program works. Xcel will distribute the energy produced in the gardens throughout its existing power grid. The utility is also setting rules for project design and an application fee for developers. Subscribers will purchase the power from the solar gardens at a rate of 13 cents per kWh. For up to 25 years, Xcel will credit them at a rate of 14.7 kWh for each kWh purchased. The anticipated 11.5% savings will be immediate for these Xcel subscribers.
Any number of of community solar projects can be developed under the Minnesota plan. Customers interested in community solar gardens can find more information at the Minnesota Clean Energy Resource Teams resource page here.
Solar City’s plan—the company’s first project of this type—is the nation’s largest community solar proposal so far. The company will build about 100 one-megawatt solar gardens in two counties, Wright and Sherburne.
SunShare has committed to build community solar projects that will serve 5,000 Minnesota homes. The company calculates that the energy produced from only 20 panels will cover the entire electric bill of a typical household, with any excess energy carried over to offset future bills. The company is also working with the City of Cologne in Carver County to transform it into a 100% solar-powered community.