Working with Tangletown Minneapolis business owners on solar energy

Seed Grant enables Tangletown to learn about solar potential on local business roofs

Tucked into the south side of Minneapolis, Tangletown is a neighborhood interested in clean energy possibilities. The neighborhood hopes to foster a culture of energy sustainability by installing solar arrays in an urban setting. With a $1,000 Seed Grant from Metro CERT, they assessed four roofs and evaluated their suitability for installing solar arrays ranging in size from 40 kW up to 140 kW.

In an era where environmental interest and campaigns are prolific, Joy Gottschalk from the board of Tangletown describes clean energy as “the elephant in the room; it is an environmental issue that affects all others.” Unlike environmental efforts for pollinators or clean water, Gottschalk has found that people often think they need a scientific background to understand energy. To start combating the silence around energy, Gottschalk has made energy education a priority.

Solar assessments

The project visited over 20 businesses whose buildings had been identified as likely candidates for solar energy, and ended up providing independent building assessments for four business rooftops. Assessments were conducted through the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society (MRES).

The four buildings assessed were each identified as being excellent solar resources. Each of the four building owners or managers received an assessment report that detailed the solar capacity of their roof, provided financial estimates and resources, and made recommendations for energy conservation and efficiency that could reduce their electricity load and costs. Below are specific numbers from the assessments.

  • Hwa Rang Do at 5415 Nicollet Ave S: 40kw capacity recommended (half 5 year roof, half 20 year roof)
  • Diamond Lake Ace Hardware at 5425 Nicollet Ave S: 70kw capacity (25 year roof)
  • Caribou Coffee via Dollar Tree at 4600–4632 Nicollet Ave S: 140kw capacity (>10 year roof)
  • Urban Refuge Church at 5501 Chicago Ave: 60kW capacity (>20 year roof)

Looking for community solar sites

The Seed Grant funded roof assessments for businesses in Tangletown with the hope that one might develop into a community solar garden. Gottschalk highlighted three benefits of a local solar garden.

  1. The first is that a visible community solar garden is an educational opportunity; residents who see solar panels are reminded about the origins of their energy and will hopefully evaluate their own energy consuming behaviors.
  2. The second, more pragmatic, benefit is that local community solar gardens cut back on energy losses from transmission over long distances.
  3. Lastly, they optimize the use of flat urban roofs that are typically otherwise wasted space.

“We were not able to identify a large community solar host site that would immediately appeal to solar developers and allow for many residential subscribers,” noted Gottschalk, “but it’s possible that some of the buildings assessed could become small gardens or install independent solar arrays.”

Lessons learned

New roof, then solar: One thing that was learned through the project is that the neighborhood has a preponderance of older roofs that are not presently suited to solar arrays. This change meant that some buildings would get assessments and likely not take action for a while. They decided this was okay because they had planted the seed for that building owner to consider solar when they eventually do replace their roof. And, having the assessment allows them to be better informed if they end up talking to other building owners about solar.

Effective outreach: Fewer people than anticipated responded to the offer of a free roof assessment. One reason was communication. Businesses were less responsive to online posts, paper flyers, and door knocking than they were to personal contacts reaching out. This shows that one-on-one conversations and visits are still an incredibly important and effective way to engage local businesses.

Growing local expertise, trust, and interest: Despite the low-stakes, high-gain nature of solar project opportunities, Gottschalk had trouble garnering interest from businesses. This indicates that continued education is very important in the neighborhood. It is the work of community insiders to engage their residents and continue to build trust so that the benefits of clean energy can be learned, then reaped. In the process of educating her community about energy, Gottschalk has also established herself as a resource for community members initiating energy changes. A local business reached out to her a few weeks ago to see if grant funding for a solar assessment was still available. While no funding remained, Gottschalk had learned about solar in her area through the Seed Grant process and could connect the business with resources to help their solar project launch.

The power of collaboration

“This project was a good example of neighborhoods and like minded groups working together,” said Gottschalk. “The Hale, Page, and Diamond Lake neighborhoods are also interested and involved in solar and they were excited to help find buildings for these assessments. Any time neighborhoods collaborate it makes it that much easier to collaborate again.”

“We reached out to various groups for help promoting this project,” she continued, “including several neighborhood associations, the SW Coordinators group, the Southwest Business Association, and a network of Minneapolis Green Teams that was newly formed in 2016. These partnerships proved to be helpful. One of the building assessments was coordinated by members of the HPDL neighborhood association and Green Team. Another was a lead through the Southwest Business Association.”

Project Snapshot

  • Project: Offer solar site assessments to area businesses to explore rooftop solar implementation in the neighborhood
  • Location: Tangletown Neighborhood, Minneapolis, MN
  • Activity: Outreach
  • Technology: Solar PV with Batteries
  • Benefits: Provided a lot of education to numerous businesses and residents about the benefits of solar and the considerations involved in rooftop solar specifically.
  • Total Project Cost: $1,000
  • Metro CERT Seed Grant: $1,000
  • People Involved: 11
  • People Reached: 9,300

CERTs awards seed grants to community groups for energy efficiency and clean energy projects across Minnesota. We’ve awarded over $1 million in Seed Grants since 2006. Click here to see more Seed Grant blog posts or click here to see more past funded projects.

CERTs Seed Grants

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