Go Solar

Community Solar Gardens

Go Solar Without Installing Panels

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

  1. Solar is Installed
    Solar PV panels are installed in sunny locations to produce renewable electricity.
  2. You Subscribe
    Individual entities can subscribe to enough solar to cover up to 120% of their annual electricity usage.
  3. You're Credited on Your Utility Bill
    Each subscriber's utility bill is credited with the electricity created by their share of the solar garden.

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Subscribing

 

Who can participate?

  1. Xcel Energy electricity customers
    Can subscribe to projects offered by private developers based on garden availability.
     
  2. Those served by other utilities in Minnesota
    Can subscribe to a community solar garden if a program is offered by the utility. Keep in mind some utility’s gardens may be fully subscribed, and you may be put on a waiting list.

See the graphic below for a visual idea of the way customer relationships work depending on the subscription path available to you.

 

 

 

 

In Xcel Energy Territory

 

If you are in Xcel Energy territory you may be able to subscribe to a community solar garden being offered by a third-party developer. You can use the CERTs Solar Directory to find and reach out to these companies.

Tip: You may need to contact several companies to find those with available subscriptions. You must subscribe to a garden located in your county or in an adjacent county. Use the filtering tools in the directory to identify if you're looking for residential or commercial offerings.

 

How do I subscribe?

To participate in a Community Solar Garden, you must purchase a subscription. There are two primary subscription models: pay upfront and pay-as-you-go. In a pay upfront model a subscriber purchases a subscription for a onetime fee (a lump sum) that covers the life of the agreement–typically 20 or 25 years. This is like buying all of your power upfront. In a pay-as-you-go model a subscriber pays in monthly installments, typically based on the amount of energy their portion of the solar garden produces. Whichever route you choose, you will not actually own solar panels, you will have a subscription for the solar energy system’s production.

 

How am I credited?

Subscribers will be compensated for their share of the Community Solar Garden system’s output via a credit on their utility bill. Most credits will be made on a dollar per kilowatt hour produced ($/kWh) basis, but some utilities provide direct kWh credits. Subscribers will receive these credits for the length of their subscription.
For Xcel Energy customers, the credit rate is either based on the Average Retail Rate (ARR) or based on the Value of Solar (VOS). The credit rate used for your subscription is based on when the initial community solar garden application was accepted by Xcel Energy.

  • ARR subscriptions are based on the average retail rate for your customer class and therefore vary for residential, small general and general service customers. These credit rates are updated annually and change based on changing electric rates. This means a subscriber will not know in advance what the credits will be. Under the ARR subscriptions, most gardens also include an enhanced credit rate based on additional Renewable Energy Credits (REC).
     
  • VOS subscriptions are based on the value of solar in the "vintage year" the garden was deemed complete. With VOS credit rates, a subscriber will know what the credit value will be each and every year of their subscription upfront.

You can learn more about these rates on the Xcel Energy website.

 

How much energy can I subscribe to?

Xcel Energy customers can subscribe to as little as 200 watts of solar capacity or up to 120% of their average annual energy use. 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 7.5 kW of solar (assuming a 1 kW panel would produce roughly 1,300 kWh per year if it had a 15% 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.

 

How much does it cost?

The short answer is, it depends. In Xcel Energy territory, each developer will have their own subscription prices, but usually these are designed to be a little bit less than the credit you receive. For example, if the bill credit rate is 9.5 cents, your subscription cost might be pegged at a discounted value (say, a penny less) and therefore cost 8.5 cents. Or, your subscription might be pegged at a percentage less (say, 5% less) and therefore cost 9.025 cents.

In non-Xcel Energy, subscription costs vary by utility. Often the cost of a subscription is a little higher than your current energy cost–maybe 1 cent more, but you are locking in energy costs at current rates. Another option is to purchase the subscription up front. When you purchase the subscription up-front, you are essentially pre-paying for your energy for 25 years. These prices vary by utility and by when the project was developed.

 

Next: More Frequently Asked Questions

 

In non-Xcel Energy territory, if you move but have the same utilities, you can take your subscription with you. 

For Xcel Energy customers, if you move within the same county or to an adjacent county where Xcel Energy is still your electric utility provider, 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 can 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 (c) transfer it to another household.

Your solar garden operator keeps track of subscriptions and will handle the customer care role of processing any necessary changes. There may be fees associated with transferring your subscription. Subscribers should review and understand these fees before subscribing. 

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. The same is true in Municipal Utility programs and in Minnesota Power’s program. 

In Xcel Energy territory, current models from developers are typically structured to allow subscribers to start saving money right away. Subscription types vary. For customers who receive bill credits under the Average Retail Rate (ARR) the benefits can be greater, but this depends upon on your subscription price, your bill credit rate, and how those escalate over time. We have a calculator tool that can help you understand those numbers. For customers who receive credits under the Value of Solar (VOS), you will know exactly what your credit will be for every year of your subscription, and you can compare that with what you will be paying.  We have another calculator to help you understand that.

Access Community Solar Calculators

Well, not exactly. This is because of something called Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) which represent the “greenness” or the “renewable energy attributes” of the power. In particular in the Xcel Energy program, the RECs are sold to Xcel Energy. This means that you can claim that you are participating in a community solar garden project (because you are!), but you cannot say you are solar powered unless you have those RECs. Learn more in this handy one-pager.

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 entity 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.

In many cases, though not all, the entity who develops the community solar garden may not be the operator or group who then manages your subscription over time. We never recommend one entity over another, but here are some  questions a potential subscriber ought to ask of company before subscribing:

  • What is the term of my subscription?
  • Who do I call if I have questions about my subscription?
  • How will you notify me if my point of contact changes?
  • What are the rules about what happens to my subscription if I should move, want to cancel, or die?
  • Are there any other fees or charges associated with my subscription?
  • What is the starting cost of my subscription and how will that change over time?
  • How soon will I start to see bill credits?

Explore developers using our solar directory

Before subscribing to any particular project, all subscribers should ask for and review the solar garden’s subscriber agreement as this is the legal document that you will sign as a subscriber and should have all of the pertinent details you need. See the questions about, “how do I choose a developer” above.

Before subscribing you should be comfortable with the terms of the agreement (how long it lasts), the rules for transferring or canceling your subscription, and what you will pay for your subscription.

Not necessarily, but it’s always good to make sure the company is legitimate. You can check our list of developers, reach out to the Attorney General, or check with the Better Business Bureau. The MN Attorney General’s office also has a good consumer protection focused resource page.

Calculator Spreadsheets

Calculate financial impact of a subscription (ARR)
Calculate financial impact of a subscription (VOS)
Compare solar garden proposals

Looking for some background?

You can download a narrative about the single offer calculator. We have a handy blog post and webinar that talks about how to use the multiple offer tool.

Credits:

  • The single offer tool was created by Douglas Tiffany, a Research Fellow at the University of Minnesota.
  • The multiple offer tool was created by Trevor Drake, program staff at the Great Plains Institute.
     

Next: Printables

 

Factsheets About Community Solar

Intro to Community Solar for Xcel Energy customers
Solar Gardens & Energy Assistance
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