Power Up Winona Community Solar

Citizen group in Winona County powered up about community solar gardens

Residents and businesses in Winona County have organized around the prospect of getting a one megawatt community solar garden project installed in their Xcel Energy service territory. They call the effort Power Up Winona Community Solar, and it’s really picking up steam.

We interviewed Chris Meyer, a local resident and energy expert, to learn more about the partnership and their goals. This project also received a Southeast CERT Seed Grant in the 2014-2015 round of funding.

Michelle Palm: Why did you decide to take on this Community Solar Garden project?

Chris Meyer: I know lots of folks in Winona who wanted to install solar and have shade trees or their roofs aren’t appropriate, so I knew there were people in Winona who wanted access to solar and didn’t have it.

Michelle Palm: What has been the process like to get a project going?

Chris Meyer: I’ve found that people, once I got them together, were really enthusiastic and wanted to work on it. We’ve had a few public events and people have really wanted to get involved. It is a complicated topic, the rules and financing especially, and that has been a hurdle that people have to get over. They think, “Do I really want to know all this stuff?”

Michelle Palm: How did you decide how big of a project you would undertake?

Chris Meyer: From the beginning, we wanted the biggest possible array, 1MW, since we wanted the big institutions in Winona involved. We went around in groups of two or three over the course of the summer to all the big institutions in town and made a pitch about community solar.

Michelle Palm: What has been most challenging in starting a community solar project?

Chris Meyer: The whole educational part of it. I must have talked to someone from the city five times. It’s a big learning curve. When you first describe it..the pay-as-you-go model, financing, and paying, it is a complicated story. When they finally get it, that it isn’t a big scam, that’s when things move. The individuals have to do that first and then can bring their institutions along.

Michelle Palm: What has brought you the most joy during this process?

Chris Meyer: If we actually get the array and manage to do it..the day I get to see it up will be a great day. We’ll get there. We had a public event with 50-some people in attendance. That was gratifying. This project is really one step at a time and you’re never sure it’s going to work out, but when it does, it’s pretty exciting. It’s certainly a slow process.

Michelle Palm: How are you getting the word out and educating people about community solar?

Chris Meyer: We have a Facebook page, a website, literature, and emails. We’ve been at public gatherings, such as a booth at the Frozen River Film Festival, and encouraged people to come with a press release, calls, and emails. We’ve also had meetings with all the big institutions in town.

Michelle Palm: What advice would you give to others who want to start a community solar garden?

Chris Meyer: You have to learn about community solar yourself first. Also, especially for those outside of the Twin Cities, it’s important to get the community institutions or businesses who are most likely to be an anchor, and work with them. We had some potential anchors and that seemed to make the solar companies willing to come down and talk to us because it wasn’t just five people wanting a project, there were big institutions involved and excited to reach out into the community.

Want to learn how your community can get a CERTs Seed Grant to advance your work? Applications for the next round of grants are available and due October 26th. To get started, visit the Seed Grant page and see other awarded projects from past years.

Community Solar Gardens are centrally-located solar photovoltaic (PV) systems that provide electricity to participating subscribers. Could it work for you?

Are you interested in going solar but unable to do so on your own? Perhaps you live in an apartment, have a shaded roof at home, or don’t have space at your organization.

Where do you want to start?

Community Solar Gardens

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