In communities across Minnesota organizations are choosing to go solar with Minnesota’s new community solar programs. By providing an opportunity for Minnesotan’s to subscribe to clean homegrown energy, community solar gardens help support local solar businesses while reducing our dependence on imported fuels.
Individuals, families, schools, churches, businesses, and community organizations are excited about the opportunity to move Minnesota’s energy economy forward. These are the faces of community solar.
Foley Public Schools
Foley Public Schools are pursuing a community solar subscription because it has the possibility of saving the school district roughly $4 million over the 20-year contract. Buying into a larger community garden with other families and businesses allows the school district to take advantage of lower up-front costs and a vastly simpler process.
They are working with developers to ensure that district employees will also be able to sign up for individual subscriptions as well. At the end of the day, community solar offers Foley Public Schools an easy way to use affordable alternative energy while providing a tangible educational opportunity for students of all ages to see how solar energy is produced right in their own community.
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis is a member of MUUSJA, the Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance, the collective group of UU congregations that aims to leverage our efforts in numerous social action causes.
They are interested in community solar specifically to achieve their core values, which include the deployment of solar energy instead of fossil-fuel based generation, the reduction of carbon emissions, and the adoption of true renewable energy sources for our state and society. They know that members allowed to subscribe to this program can have a major impact in these directions, and save their members and their churches considerable energy dollars in the process.
The Schilling Family
Eric Schilling of Ham Lake works on designs for next generation pacemakers and defibrillators as a biomedical engineer at Medtronic.
He and his family are also proudly powering half of their home energy use with community solar. They like that it’s a great way to get the benefits of using solar energy without the hassle of installing and maintaining their own solar array.
They’ve told a number of friends, neighbors, and family members about the opportunity and display a small solar sign proudly in front of their garage.
(The Schilling family story originally appeared on the Clean Energy Resource Team website)
The Johnson Family
Jim Johnson serves on the Board of Directors of the Pelican Rapids Area Economic Development Corporation. Recently, he and his wife, Carol, decided to sign up for community solar because of their environmental values and their appreciation for home-grown energy projects.
Their friends have heard them say that solar energy is the coming thing, and it’s here now, in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota. They’re glad to use community solar because they think it is the most environmentally positive energy source and likely will be for a long time.
(The Johnson family story originally appeared on the Clean Energy Resource Team website)
David Schmidt is a research engineer at the University of Minnesota and teaches a course on renewable energy.
He had already cut back on his energy use at his home in Corcoran, Minnesota and converted to LED lights. For a long time he was intrigued by the idea of generating power from the sun, but had never taken the next step—until community solar came along.
It didn’t make much sense for him to purchase a small home system because he couldn’t afford the kind of system that would generate 50 to 100 percent of his needs. Instead, he signed up for community solar as a first step toward becoming 100 percent renewable.
(The David Schmidt story originally appeared on the Clean Energy Resource Team website)
The Egan Family
Rachel Egan of Blaine, Minnesota is a hand therapist with NovaCare, and her husband, John, is a primary care physician in an internal medicine private practice on the Abbott Northwestern campus.
When their new neighborhood association forbade solar installations on homeowners’ roofs, they turned to community solar as an alternative. Community solar offered a single, straightforward process. They both commute with electric vehicles, and they liked the idea of offsetting their added electricity use with solar energy, especially now that it no longer takes the deepest pockets to participate.
(The Egan family story originally appeared on the Clean Energy Resource Team website)
Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City Schools
By a unanimous vote of the school board, the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District is investing in a 25-year solar energy contract for its Cosmos Learning Center and Atwater Elementary School buildings.
The district is excited about presenting a positive example for its students by investing in solar energy.
“We teach these kids the importance of energy conservation, the importance of exploring new alternatives,” said Business Manager Dan Tait. “This is a chance for us to practice what we preach and to demonstrate with our actions that our words are important.”
The Custer Family
Christine and Tom Custer live in Brownsville, Minnesota and are both wildlife biologists at the Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
They’re offsetting much of their average monthly electrical usage with a community solar garden.
They believe that they are all personally responsible for minimizing their impact on the earth and its resources. This was one way to ensure that some greater proportion of the electricity that they use monthly is from renewable sources.
(The Custer family story originally appeared on the Clean Energy Resource Team website)
The Falch Brothers
Douglas Falch and his brother, Denis, of Winona, Minnesota are now retired after working at the Winona Dairy Queen for many years.
The brothers had been considering solar panels near their home for several years but didn’t want to have them take up space in the yard. They found the community solar subscription process very straightforward.
They are glad to be able to use an alternate form of energy to help reduce pollution from burning fossil fuels and they like that the maintenance and insurance are all included in the system.
(The Falch brothers story originally appeared on the Clean Energy Resource Team website)
The Dagen Family
Gary and Betty Dagen are both retired and live in Barnesville, MN.
Based on their desire to reduce their environmental impact, they signed up for community solar.
Their home is on a wooded lot, which meant that installing solar panels on site wasn’t an option. Their decision was partially based on conservation of the environment, as well as wanting to leave a better world for their children.
(The Dagen family story originally appeared on the Clean Energy Resource Team website)
Northfield Area Community Solar
Northfield Area Community Solar recently celebrated the signing of a lease for a solar garden to be constructed at Eastgate Farms, which was one of the first in the state.
The goal is to provide citizens of Rice County and adjacent counties an opportunity to use panels that were made in Minnesota. Potential subscribers have variability in what they want to contribute to the solar garden, with options ranging from being able to purchase anywhere between a leaf (a single unit available to subscribers) and 120 percent of their Xcel Energy meter usage. They consider community solar an important tool in the move toward more renewable energy.
Minneapolis Neighborhoods and Organizations
More than 70 neighborhood leaders recently gathered at an area church to learn about community solar gardens, including the specific roles for neighborhoods in future projects.
The event was cohosted by the city of Minneapolis and Metro Clean Energy Resource Team, and was the result of a several-month planning process in which a group of eight neighborhood leaders provided their input and expertise in designing this workshop.
At the end of the evening, the whole group came together to share lessons learned and words of encouragement. There was broad agreement and excitement about the opportunities for neighborhood groups to use community solar.
City of Cologne
“The City of Cologne is excited to participate in SunShare’s community solar gardens, which will result in our City off-setting 100 percent of our electricity with clean local solar electricity. We are excited to also be able to provide this opportunity for our residents and businesses.”
City Administrator, Cologne
City of Starbuck
“Over 35 years ago, Pope County Minnesota led America’s first energy war against centralized energy’s negative impacts on small, local communities.
“The controversy emerged when a large, high voltage, transmission line was routed 5 miles north of Starbuck bringing AC/DC current from generating plants in the North Dakota lignite fields to the Twin Cities metro area.
“Today Starbuck and SunShare are working together to create clean, renewable, local energy right in our community. Community solar is a great way for communities to foster economic growth, realize cost savings, and participate in safe, clean, renewable energy.”
Dakota County Community Development Agency
Mission: to improve the lives of Dakota County residents through affordable housing and community development.
Today, the CDA administers over 30 different programs and is one of the largest housing and community development program providers in the state. The CDA’s rental programs alone assist over 4,000 households annually.
The CDA’s newest townhouse is intended to provide affordable workforce housing. Residents will able to pay a fixed rent of $570 for a one-bedroom home, up to $650 for a two-bedroom, and up to $705 for a three-bedroom. More than 1,800 applicants are on a waiting list for the program.
Bongards’ Creameries began as a small local creamery, helping farmers process their milk. Since its beginning in 1908, it has grown to include satellite factories in Perham, Minnesota and Humboldt, Tennessee. Today, Bongards’ Creameries employs 300 people and has about 600 farmers who are either direct members, trade members, or member cooperatives.
“Bonards’ is a farmer owned cooperative made up of hundreds of family owned farms. Bongards’ is subscribing to a SunShare community solar garden and also host to a project because our farmers are stewards of the earth and community solar allows us to meet our mission.”
Bongards’ CEO & President
Spring Lake Park Schools
The Spring Lake Park School District is in the process of subscribing to a solar garden. To subscribe, District 16 has to sign a 25-year contract, locking in the district’s current energy rate with Xcel or opting for a zero-risk model.
“They are all betting that over 25 years energy prices will not be less than they are now,” Schultz told the board at a recent work session. On average, energy prices have increased 4.5 percent annually the last 10 years, Schultz said
The district pays $900,000 to power its buildings each year — a portion to Xcel and the rest to Connexus Energy. Consultants estimate the district would save $82,000 in the first year of the program alone, Schultz said.
(This story originally appeared in the SUNFocus)
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