This blog is excerpted from a Finance & Commerce story by Frank Jossi.

Third-party ownership is one of the growing number of ways building owners can support solar energy and reduce their utility bills. Under the arrangement, a third-party owner earns money by selling the energy production to building owners for prices substantially less than local utilities charge them.

Waconia Public Schools third-party solar ribbon cutting

This blog is an excerpt from an article in Utility Dive.

Some say pilot projects are a way to avoid the risk of real innovation, but a proposed Xcel Energy pilot to test time-of-use (TOU) rates is charging at innovation and winning praise as it goes.

Image credit: Wikimedia

The Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) at the University of Minnesota Duluth has created a coal substitute through the process of torrefaction. Woody biomass is roasted in a kiln and formed into briquettes that can be used in existing coal-burning power plants. Benefits include lower carbon emissions and virtually no mercury pollution.

Don Fosnacht, NRRI associate director of the Renewable Energy Initiative, describes the process of converting wood (foreground) into compact briquettes that can be used in coal-fired power plants. Photo by Bob King, Duluth News Tribune

On Tuesday, December 5th nearly 30 hardy Minnesotans ventured out on one of the first really cold days of the season to join Northeast Clean Energy Resource Team (NE CERT) to learn about the solar plus battery storage project at Hartley Nature Center. While solar and storage are frequently discussed, there are few examples up and running in Minnesota that one can actually visit and learn from.

Solar Plus Storage at Hartley Nature Center in Duluth, MN

Kim Norton is currently a member of the Rochester, MN Rochester Energy Commission. Kim and her husband Randy have recently subscribed to the Rochester Public Utilities (RPU) Solar Choice community solar garden to reduce their use of fossil fuels while powering their electric vehicles. Chris Meyer with CERTs asked Kim to share her experience signing up to RPU’s community solar garden.

Kim Norton from Rochester

When large solar arrays are being installed, it’s quite common to hear from nearby residents that they’re worried about property values being impacted. The 100 MW North Star Solar installation in Chisago County is Minnesota’s largest, and produces enough electricity to power about 20,000 homes.

North Star Solar having no impact on Chisago County property values

The Minnesota Department of Commerce has announced the opening of the application process for the 2018 Clean Energy Community Awards (CECA) to recognize the good work of Minnesota communities in helping achieve the state’s clean energy goals. Commerce is the sponsor and coordinator of the program, with financial support from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Award recipients from the 2016 Clean Energy Community Awards

Remember the movie Toy Story and that phrase, “To Infinity and Beyond!”? That was the basis for the name “Buildings, Benchmarks, and Beyond” or B3, and it was with that same sort of enthusiasm—but for energy efficiency—that Southeast Clean Energy Resource Team (SE CERT) kicked off a workshop on December 1st for local governments and schools looking to save energy in their buildings, kindly hosted at People’s Energy Cooperative in Oronoco.

Attendees chatting about super exciting energy efficiency opportunities, all made possible by building benchmarking!

Since its launch in 2014, Xcel Energy’s community solar garden program in Minnesota has driven a growing conversation about solar energy options and opportunities, especially among local government staff and elected officials.

Community solar garden from above | Credit: Metropolitan Council

The 11th Annual Fall Summit, held at Saint John’s University this year, engaged over 200 students and coaches from 14 Youth Energy Summit (YES!) teams from central and southern Minnesota.

Students measure the heat differences of lightbulbs using an infrared thermometer during the “Get Current” with Alexis from CERTs

Minneapolis, Champlin, Forest Lake Area Schools, Lester Prairie, Dakota County, Waconia Public Schools.

What do these local governments and schools districts have in common? They are just a sample of public entities that have utilized third-party financing as a means to place solar arrays on their facilities.

Waconia Public Schools third-party solar ribbon cutting

Before winter gets into full swing, Minnesota homeowners have the opportunity to act now to help prevent ice dams and costly water damage to ceilings and walls.

What’s the problem?

Ice dams are primarily caused by the presence of warm air in the attic, combined with snow on the roof and the right weather conditions, with outside air temperatures near freezing.

Ice dam on a home in winter

Safety. This is one of the unheralded benefits of a home energy audit, and a small Southeast CERT Seed Grant which helped fund 17 energy audits in Winona County led to the replacement of furnaces in two low-income households.

Blower door test to find leaks during energy audit. Photo courtesy Home Energy Squad

CERTs is pleased to welcome Matt McFarland as our new coordinator for the Northwest region!

Over the past year and a half, Matt has worked at Headwaters Regional Development Commission in Bemidji, Minnesota.

Matt McFarland

On October 25, 2017, Metro CERT paid a visit to Shorewood, MN to talk to small businesses about energy-saving projects. CERT hoped to raise awareness about opportunities available through rebates and programs offered by their utilities. From the chocolatier to the VFW hall, we had lively conversations about how to save money for these local businesses and organizations.

City of Shorewood

High on the bluffs above the Mississippi River, near the town of La Crescent, Minnesota, is Enchanted Meadows Organic Dairy Farm. This enterprise is owned by Art and Jean Thicke, and has been in the Thicke family for over 85 years. The conversion to organic was completed in 2005, and they became members of Westby Cooperative Creamery in 2008.

Solar at Enchanted Meadows

On October 3rd, over 30 people joined a clean energy tour in Detroit Lakes hosted by Detroit Lakes Public Utilities, Missouri River Energy Services (MRES), and Central Clean Energy Resource Team (Central CERT).

Tour participants gathered for a big group photo in front of Detroit Lake’s Community Solar Garden

“I am delighted to have the opportunity to work with communities in my home area to see how they can use clean energy to improve their lives,” says Melissa Birch, the new Central CERT Coordinator.

After growing up in north-central Minnesota, Melissa earned a B.A.

Melissa Birch

“All I wanted was a light bulb that would look and feel the same as my old bulb,” said Shaina Brassard, a Minneapolis resident. “When you go to the store you have so many choices now—it can be confusing.

Right Light App for energy-efficient LED bulbs

If you were not able to make it to the event, please take a moment to share your ideas about Metro CERT priorities for 2018-2019.

Over 100 people attended the Metro CERT Annual Event

Wondering what strategies were particularly effective for CERTs Seed Grant recipients in 2016? Below are the top ten things that come out of their project reflections. Now we can all benefit from them!

1. Grow community support for your project early.

Taking the time to get strong support insured that projects proceeded regardless of funding sources, staffing, and other challenges.

On August 9, 2017 NE CERT and Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa co-hosted a clean energy tour of both Fond du Lac Band’s Resource Management Division building as well as Black Bear Casino Resort. The tour included a 1MW solar PV installation, LED lighting, a wood pellet biomass system and other clean energy technologies.

Fond du Lac clean energy tour

Earlier this summer, Edna Gulbranson’s son came back from Wisconsin with a recommendation: A friend of his had recently had an energy inspection done, and it seemed like a good deal, with his friend’s home having received a host of energy-related upgrades and improvements. Gulbranson explained that her son encouraged her to explore the opportunity at her own abode, a townhome in Lindstrom.

Home Energy Squad truck and worker

Clean Energy Economy Minnesota (CEEM) today released a new report called Clean Jobs Midwest from Clean Energy Trust and Environmental Entrepreneurs that finds that Minnesota now has 57,351 total clean energy jobs.

In the last 12 months, Minnesota’s clean energy industry grew by 5.3 percent, adding 2,893 jobs—3.8 times faster than overall job growth in the state.

In 2016 there were 57,351 clean energy jobs in MN

Hi, my name is Karin Davey and I am a senior Environmental Studies major at Macalester College. I grew up Mankato, Minnesota, in a family where the natural environment played a key role. Most days of my childhood found me outside covered in mud or snow, and I took regular camping and canoeing trips with my parents.

Karin Davey

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