Barnesville Municipal Power attracts new residents with community solar

Highlighting ways to engage and educate

Barnesville Municipal Power, the electric utility operated by the City of Barnesville, constructed a community solar garden as a way for its customers to invest in and support renewable energy—and to help attract new residents to town.

A robust education and outreach campaign has helped spread the word about the project and its benefits to both customers and the community as a whole.

This opportunity for community solar has been a cornerstone of our efforts to attract new residents and businesses to Barnesville.

Guy Swenson, Utility Manager, Barnesville Municipal Power

Community solar garden takes root in Barnesville

A vibrant community in northwest Minnesota, the City of Barnesville and its municipal electric utility have a proven history of embracing new and innovative ideas and technologies, including focuses on green initiatives and livability for city residents. Community leaders were excited to add solar energy to that list.

Experiencing an influx of young families and others interested in renewable energy and sustainability moving to town in recent years, offering a community solar option made sense.

“This opportunity for community solar has been a cornerstone of our efforts to attract new residents and businesses to Barnesville,” Guy Swenson, utility manager for Barnesville Municipal Power, said. “We identified an underutilized city-owned site near the Barnesville Community Garden, which we felt would be a perfect location to showcase this new cutting edge addition to the community.”

How the community solar garden works

With the help of a CERTs Seed Grant in 2018, the city constructed its 26.4 kW community solar garden project that includes 80 solar panels available through a subscription model. Utility customers can purchase subscriptions for the electricity generated by one or more panels for a 20-year period, at a cost of $775 per panel. Customers then receive a credit on their electricity bill based on the relative output of their share.

The community solar model provides a simple and convenient way for customers to participate in local solar generation without having to install solar on their own roof or property—or worry about maintenance or repair costs.

Swenson spoke to the importance of engaging residents early in the process and setting realistic expectations for the sale of panel subscriptions, which can still be a significant upfront investment for many residents.

“It’s important to engage the public in the journey and ownership of a community solar project from the very beginning,” Swenson said.

With a majority of panels still available for purchase, the city hopes to attract even more subscribers and get those who have expressed interest to commit.

It’s important to engage the public in the journey and ownership of a community solar project from the very beginning.

Guy Swenson, Utility Manager, Barnesville Municipal Power

Investing in education and outreach

As part of this effort to reach and educate as many residents as possible about the opportunity and benefits of solar energy, the city invested in a robust education and outreach campaign.

Activities have included supplying letters and informational brochures about community solar subscriptions to residents along with LED light bulb giveaways, tabling at local trade shows and community events, hosting an in-person open house for residents to engage with and ask questions about the technology and posting information about the program on the city website—including an online dashboard that shows the solar garden’s power production in real time. The project also received a lot of attention in local news.

“We were fortunate that the editor of our local newspaper was very supportive of the project and provided great coverage in the newspaper. There were front page news stories when the City Council approved the project, for the groundbreaking of the project, the construction of the project and its completion,” Swenson said.

In addition, the project put together a video that continues to be featured on the city’s social media and local television station.

  • Technology: Solar Electric - community solar garden
  • Project size: 26.4 kW (80 panels, 330 W each); cost of subscription $775/panel
  • Northwest CERT Seed Grant: $5,000
  • Total Project Cost: $59,900
  • Other Funds: City funds
  • Project Team: Guy Swenson (City of Barnesville Telephone, Electric and Cable Manager), Brad Field (City of Barnesville Council Member), Mike Rietz (City of Barnesville City Administrator), Karen Lauer (City of Barnesville Economic Development), Chey Spitzer (Enterprise Sales Company), Jeff Peters (Missouri River Energy Services), Marcy Douglas (Missouri River Energy Services)
  • People Involved and Reached: 3,822
  • Annual Energy Generated: 39,158 kWh

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