Solar Possible

Effort advances solar procurement for public entities in Minnesota

Ending in August 2019, the Solar Possible initiative offered state agencies, local governments, and schools in Xcel Energy electric territory in Minnesota the opportunity to procure solar through a joint RFP process.

The idea behind the effort was that collaborative solar purchasing could reduce administrative costs, support peer learning, enable timely action, and reduce costs through bulk pricing.

Solar Possible was a joint effort of Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs), Great Plains Institute, and the Minnesota Department of Administration, Office of Enterprise Sustainability.

Why organize in a joint RFP for solar?

Whether it be to achieve environmental goals, reduce energy costs, or show community leadership, solar can provide measurable benefits for state and local governments. However, the process for procuring solar can be difficult, including the following challenges:

  1. Limited staff time and resources to run an effective Request-for-Proposals (RFP) process
  2. Lack of knowledge on solar technologies, contract terms, and financing options
  3. Competing priorities that are more urgent than solar procurement

Collaborative government procurement of solar has been shown to address these barriers by reducing administrative costs for participants, providing opportunities for peer learning and action, providing a structured process for timely action, and potentially reducing solar system costs through bulk pricing.

What did we accomplish together?

Solar Possible addressed the above barriers by coordinating a joint site(s)-specific RFP process among multiple state, local government and school participants, including the following key elements:

  1. Joint Site(s)-specific RFP. Instead of each government entity running their own individual RFP process, this project provided the opportunity for multiple entities to sign onto a single, joint RFP process, reducing government staff time and resources needed to procure solar.
  2. Technical assistance. Throughout the project, CERTs hosted in-person and webinar meetings to educate participants about solar technology, contract terms, and financing options, with the goal of empowering each participant to make an informed decision in response to vendor proposals. CERTs also provided 1-on-1 technical assistance.
  3. Structured process. This project provided a series of action steps and deadlines to help government staff tackle solar procurement one step at a time and make the process more manageable among competing priorities.

Solar being installed in the Capitol Complex

What was the Solar Possible process?

State agencies, local governments, and schools within Xcel Energy electric territory in Minnesota were invited to participate in this initial RFP. The process below describes how the joint site(s)-specific RFP was issued and how local governments procured solar through this initiative.

  1. Brief Note of Interest (March 30, 2018): Participants sent a quick email to Peter Lindstrom at CERTs to indicate interest in being part of the project. 
  2. Collect Letters of Intent (April 30, 2018): Interested local governments and schools signed a non-binding letter formally declaring their intent to participate in the site(s)-specific RFP process, including seeking to identify at least one potential site that is suitable for solar. 
  3. Conduct Solar Site Assessment for Each Site (May 2018): Interested participants conducted preliminary solar site assessments for one or more publicly owned facilities or properties, to identify suitability for solar and inclusion in the joint RFP. CERTs and GPI conducted a webinar to help participants with the assessment process. 
  4. Issue Site(s)-Specific Request for Proposals (June 15th 2018): CERTs and GPI worked with participants to schedule a site visit for each participating entity, to allow interested solar developers to identify any site-specific changes for their proposal. 
  5. Conduct Developer Site Visits (June–July 2018): CERTs and GPI worked with participants to schedule a site visit for each participating entity, to allow interested solar developers to identify any site-specific changes for their proposal. 
  6. Offer Evaluation and Selection (August 2018): The procurement lead managed a process to evaluate and rank solar developers’ proposals according to qualifications, experience, and price, and other factors. The procurement lead determined whether to select one or multiple proposers depending on the quality and breadth of proposals received. 
  7. Offers Provided (August 2018): Participants received either one or possibly multiple offers to choose from. To help participants evaluate offers, CERTs and GPI offered a webinar and technical assistance with the offer evaluation process, including reviewing potential risks, key contract terms, and financial costs and benefits. Technical assistance was available until decisions were due in mid-October, 2018. 
  8. Decisions to Move Forward (Due October 15th, 2018): Participants decided whether to move forward with their proposed project(s). Participants not moving forward were able to exit the process without any penalty other than staff time already invested in participating. 
  9. Installations (Fall 2018–Spring/Summer 2019): Participants moving forward with one or more projects worked with their selected developer to schedule the installation and establish logistics for on-site work. 
  10. Project Promotion and Celebration (Spring/Summer 2019): CERTs and GPI assisted participants with communications to highlight and celebrate their installations as a result of the process. 

Solar Possible Downloads

Project Overview Sheet
Presentation Slides

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