Community Solar Gardens

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Community Solar Gardens are centrally-located solar photovoltaic (PV) systems that provide electricity to participating subscribers.

Xcel Energy customers can participate in projects offered by private developers. Members of other utilities in Minnesota can subscribe to a community solar garden if one is offered by the utility.


Where do you want to start?

Community Solar Gardens

 

  How does it work?

Community solar gardens are for people that want to go solar but are unable to do so on their own.

Perhaps you live in an apartment, have a shaded roof at home, or don’t have space at your organization. Now you can subscribe to a community solar garden installed near you and get credits on your utility bill.

 
How it works
 

  How much solar should I get?

The amount of electricity you use helps you decide how much solar to get.

Your solar garden subscription can cover up to 120% of your annual electricity usage. A typical Minnesota home uses 800 kilowatt-hours (kWh) a month.

Remember: energy efficiency is always a good place to start!

 
 
Choosing how much
 

  Who is involved in a project?

The range of players for a project could include:

 
The players
 

  Download Guide to Community Solar Gardens

Like what you’ve seen? Take it with you.

The CERTs Guide to Community Solar Gardens provides an introduction to key concepts. Please share it with others you think might be interested!

Download the guide >>

 
Download CERTs Guide to Community Solar Gardens
 

  Resources for Subscribers & Communities

Subscriber Agreement Disclosure Checklist


Download the Disclosure Checklist

Questions Subscribers Can Ask of Operators


Download the Subscriber Questions

CSG Tips for
Subscribers


Download the Subscriber Tip Sheet
 

Subscriber Financial Decision Tool


Local Government
CSG Toolkit


CSG Tips for
Communities


Download the Community Tip Sheet

Interviews with community solar subscribers:

 

  Crunch numbers to evaluate subscriptions

CERTs and our partners have created two Community Solar Garden decision-making tools that can help you:

1. Review the financial impact of a single subscription over time


2. Compare financials for various solar garden proposals

 
 
 

  Share Community Solar Gardens with others!

Community Solar Gardens will really take root in Minnesota if more people get interested and involved!

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  Solar Gardens by Utility Territory & CERT region

 

Agralite Electric Cooperative – WC

Arrowhead Electric Cooperative, Inc. – NE

Beltrami Electric Cooperative – NW

Connexus Energy – Metro

Itasca-Mantrap Cooperative Services – Central

Kandiyohi Power Cooperative – WC

Lake Region Electric Cooperative – Central

McLeod Cooperative Power – WC

Minnesota Power – NE, Central

Moorhead Public Service – NW

People’s Energy Cooperative – SE

Redwood Electric Cooperative – SW

Runestone Electric Association – WC

South Central Electric Cooperative – SW

Stearns Electric Association – Central

Steele-Waseca Cooperative Electric – SE

Tri-County Electric Cooperative – SE

Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association – Metro

Xcel Energy – Metro, SE, SW, WC

See fullscreen & mobile map Electric Utility Service Areas layer provided by MnGEO  

See more details >>

 
 

  Available Community Solar Gardens

See Community Solar Gardens on the Clean Energy Project Builder >>

 
Click to see gardens
 
Know of a garden that should be listed? Email info@cleanenergyprojectbuilder.org to let us know.

 

  Community Solar Garden Progress in Xcel Energy Territory

See map of garden applications in Xcel Energy territory >>

 
Click to explore map
 
This map is built using numbers from Xcel Energy and updated monthly.

 

  Community Solar Developers & Operators

See Community Solar Companies on the Clean Energy Project Builder >>

 
Click to see companies
 
Know of a company that should be listed? Email info@cleanenergyprojectbuilder.org to let us know.

 

  Frequently Asked Questions

Question

What is Community Solar?

Community Solar could actually be a number of things. It could be a community-owned solar installation, like at your local community center. It could be a publicly-located project funded through donations from community members. It could also be a bulk purchase of solar.

Community Shared Solar or Community Solar Gardens (which are the same thing) specifically refer to projects “whereby subscribers (at least 5) receive a bill credit for the electricity generated in proposition to the size of their subscription.”

Question

Where did the name Community Solar Gardens come from?

Think of a community garden with solar. With a community garden, a bunch of neighbors come together at one central location to garden rather than having their own gardens in their own yards. There is centralized water and a sense of gardening camaraderie. You might also compare it to a CSA, where several members come together to support one farm and all benefit with fresh produce. Participants in a Community Solar Garden have their own share of a centrally-located project and receive a direct benefit: solar energy.

Question

Do I subscribe upfront? Is it a one-time subscription?

There are different Community Solar Garden models. Some are up-front subscription models wherein the subscriber would do a lump sum up-front payment. Others are a “pay as you go” model wherein a subscriber pays a monthly (or other periodic) fee. There are also emerging models that combine both of these elements and have subscribers put some money down up front and pay some component of the costs over time.

Question

What am I purchasing when I become a subscriber?

You might wonder if you own your share of a project or if you’re just leasing it when you subscribe. If you subscribe to a community solar garden, it means you are renting from the facility owner a portion of the solar energy it produces (Minn. Stat. § 216b.1641 subd. h and Minn. Stat. § 216B.164, subd. 10k).

Question

How much can I buy?

A participant can buy as little as 200 watts of solar or enough to cover up to 120% of their annual electricity usage in Xcel Energy territory. Just for perspective, the typical MN home uses about 800 kWh each month—or 9,600 kWh/ year. To fulfill all of that need might take about 8 kW of solar (assuming each 1 kW panel would general 1,200 kWh per year if it had around a 14% capacity factor). In non-Xcel Energy territory, you would need to work directly with your utility to understand how small or large your subscription can be.

We always recommend that people consider energy conservation and efficiency measures to reduce their energy needs.

Question

How much does it cost?

The short answer is, it depends. Each developer will have their own subscription prices, and each subscriber will have an amount of their electricity that they’re willing or able to cover with solar.

Question

What if I start using more energy?

If you start using more energy, you will likely have an opportunity to subscribe to more panels to cover that usage.

However, solar has been seen as a catalyst for folks to use less energy, because they start to focus on ways they can save energy to make their solar go further. Hopefully participation in community-solar will also serve that function.

Question

What happens to my subscription if I move?

If you move within the same county or to an adjacent county where your electric utility provider is still the same, you can still be a part of the same solar garden.

If, however, you move to a different utility territory, to a non-adjacent county, or to a different state, you could no longer participate in the same solar garden. Your options would be to (a) sell your subscription back at fair market value, (b) donate it to a nonprofit, or © transfer it to another family member.

Your solar garden operator keeps track of subscriptions and will handle the customer care role of processing any necessary changes.

Question

Who can participate?

The great opportunity with community solar gardens is that anyone, or any group, can come together to kick-start a project. A congregation, a local government, a school, a community group or any group of customers can come together to develop a community solar garden.

Agralite Electric Cooperative, Arrowhead Electric Cooperative, Inc., Beltrami Electric Cooperative, Connexus Energy, Itasca-Mantrap Cooperative Services, Kandiyohi Power Cooperative, Lake Region Electric Cooperative, McLeod Cooperative Power, Minnesota Power, Moorhead Public Service, People’s Energy Cooperative, Redwood Electric Cooperative, Runestone Electric Association, South Central Electric Cooperative, Steele-Waseca Cooperative Electric, Stearns Electric Association, Tri-County Electric Cooperative, Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association, and Xcel Energy have existing programs. Potential participants in other territories will need to work with their local utilities to move a project forward.

Once a project is available, participants can sign on if they are a member/customer of a utility and located in the same county where a project is located, or the adjacent county. In plain English, that means you can subscribe to a project in Xcel Energy territory located in Hennepin County as long as you are an Xcel Energy Customer and live in either Hennepin County or any of its surrounding counties (i.e., Ramsey, Dakota, Scott, Carver, Wright, Sherburne, or Anoka).

Again, if there isn’t a project close to you, then you can serve as the catalyst to kick start one.

Question

Will I save money with a community solar garden subscription?

As a subscriber to a community solar garden project, whether or not you will save money really depends upon which utility territory you are in. Many of the Cooperative utility community solar garden programs are geared toward allowing customers to lock in a specific electric rate. If rates go up, subscribers will save money over time. In Xcel Energy territory, current models from developers are typically structured to allow subscribers to start saving energy right away. Whether you will continue to save over time and how much you will save over time depends in part upon the subscription model and what happens with utility rates.

Question

Can I claim that my home or business is solar powered?

Well, not exactly. As a subscriber to a garden that sells the solar Renewable Energy Credits (sRECs) to the utility, you can claim that you are participating in a community solar garden project, but if the Utility has purchased the sRECs, they have purchased those solar energy attributes. Learn more in this handy one-pager.

Question

Is the credit to my bill taxable income? Is the annual account settlement taxable?

The credit to your bill is not taxable. Whether or not the annual account settlement (which is the payment the utility would make via a check at the end of the year long period as a “bill true-up”) is taxable is still pending an IRS consideration. Subscribers should consult their own accountant/attorney.

Question

How do I choose a developer?

The Developer is not regulated by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, so it is important to choose your solar developer wisely. The Developer is the person or group that pulls all the various components of the project together. These are the folks who would manage the financing, the insurance, the installation, the operations and maintenance and the agreements with the utility.

We never recommend one entity over another, but we pose questions a group or individual ought to ask of a potential developer:

  • Do they have staying power to be around for the next 25 years? What is their background, and do they have the right experience?
  • Who will be the entity to conduct the maintenance on the system? Has the contractor or developer set aside enough money to do on-going work?
  • Have they secured the insurance for the project and covered all of their legal bases to move a project forward?
  • Is this developer willing to listen to your interests and motivations and use those to tailor the project?

Question

What makes for a good Host Site?

You want to make sure you’re really a good host site in terms of solar resource. What does that mean? It means south facing, no shading, a solid roof structure, ready access to the site, and a strong utility interconnection potential (i.e., close to a substation or other existing electrical infrastructure in the right utility territory).

You also need to make sure you’re in it for the long haul. If you want to lease your roof space to a project, you’ll need to do that for 25 years at minimum, and be an entity that will be around for 25 years to stick to the agreement.

Others could also play host, like a closed landfill, or a brownfield. Ideally you do not want to take up “green space” or prime agricultural land that could have a higher value used elsewhere.

Another consideration to keep in mind: a 1 MW project can require an area with either 3-8 acres of land or 100,000 sq feet of roof space (ideally a new roof).

Host Site Agreements

 
If you’re considering becoming a host site, the guide to lease agreements below will be a helpful start, and the model agreements for rooftop and land leases will help you dig into the details.

Question

Can a host site use energy generated on its roof (or a portion of it)?

Yes. If the host site is also a subscriber, then it could use some of the energy generated on its own site.

Question

What is the role of Finance?

While the subscribers pay for a lot of the up-front costs of a project, there are additional investors who will be involved in the project because they have a tax appetite to benefit from the federal Investment Tax Credit (which will make any project more affordable). These folks are important because most of us don’t really have the ability to take advantage of these tax credits.

If you have questions about the tax implications of participating in a project, you should seek professional tax advice.

Question

What is the role of the Utility?

The utility’s role in providing and charging for electricity for the subscriber’s use will remain the same. In the Xcel Energy program, in addition to that existing role, the utility will also be the entity that receives the solar electricity from the operator and then credits your bill for the solar electricity your share of the garden produced. In non-Xcel Energy territory, utilities themselves run the community solar garden programs and through those programs offer an additional service/energy resource to their members/customers through this subscription model.

Question

What is a Site Assessor?

A site assessor is critical to making sure the project is developed at the best possible host site… see above: one with a good solar resource and will a solid site for the installation.

Question

What do the Outreach Partners do?

This is a fairly straightforward role. Outreach Partners secure participants to help fill a project and make it a success. This role is critical in terms of making sure folks know about the opportunity, understand their options, and sign on to participate. Outreach can be done in a paid or unpaid capacity.

 

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  More Community Solar Garden Resources

Community Solar Gardens

 
 

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  Community Solar Blog Posts

   
Solar array financed with PACE atop the Greenway Office Building in Minneapolis
Diana McKeown
Wed, 11/02/2016 - 3:30pm
The Greenway Office Building—located a block from the intersection of Lake Street and Hiawatha in Minneapolis—epitomizes green buildings both in design and location. Built in 1999 by the Green Institute (a former CERTs partner organization), the building includes solar PV, geothermal...
Attendees at Woodbury community solar gardens workshop
Lissa Pawlisch
Mon, 10/31/2016 - 11:46am
On October 27th, 2016 around 40 people gathered at Woodbury City Hall to learn about community solar gardens and network with experts and developers. Community Solar Gardens are centrally located solar photovoltaic (PV) systems that produce electricity for participating subscribers. They’re...
Trevor Drake, Metro CERT Co-Director, speaks with event attendees
Trevor Drake
Thu, 09/22/2016 - 11:46am
On September 20th, 2016 nearly 40 people gathered at the Shoreview Community Center to learn about community solar gardens and network with experts and developers. Community Solar Gardens are centrally located solar photovoltaic (PV) systems that produce electricity for participating subscribers...
Community solar garden resources
Sarah Hayden Shaw
Tue, 09/20/2016 - 3:36pm
This past spring, thanks to support from the University of Minnesota’s Central Region Sustainable Development Partnership, Central CERT Coordinator Sarah Hayden Shaw had the opportunity to work with Connor Schaefer, a Masters student at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public...
Lissa Pawlisch
Mon, 07/25/2016 - 4:02pm
Community Solar Gardens can be an excellent opportunity for cities, counties, and other local governments to get involved in solar energy and engage community members. Some have already taken action, but many are still wondering whether or not a subscription is the right fit for their local...
National Community Solar Partnership
Dan Thiede
Wed, 07/13/2016 - 9:42am
More than 80 people gathered in Minneapolis last month for the last of four regional workshops on community solar sponsored by the Department of Energy’s National Community Solar Partnership. A major thrust of DOE’s outreach efforts is to engage solar developers, clean energy advocates and...
Pollinator-friendly prairie habitat around DNR solar installation
Fritz Ebinger
Mon, 06/27/2016 - 3:03pm
Things are in bloom all over Minnesota right now, including solar energy, and more and more solar installations across the state will be supporting the creatures that pollinate our plants. Gov. Dayton recently signed the Solar Sanctuaries Act into law on May 31, 2016. The Solar Sanctuaries Act...

Minnesotans building a clean energy future

         

    CERTs Partners:

Minnesota Department of Commerce Division of Energy Resources University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and Extension Great Plains Institute Southwest Regional Development Commission