Minnesota should use Xcel’s pilot to make solar work for all

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This month, Fresh Energy filed comments at the Public Utilities Commission proposing to expand Xcel Energy’s community solar pilot to serve multiple low-income neighborhoods across Minnesota.

  • Xcel Energy and Energy CENTS Coalition have offered a detailed project proposal for a community solar garden pilot to serve low-income households, following up on the concept proposal Xcel filed in March.
  • The proposed pilot project, which Xcel and Energy CENTS Coalition have titled Rehabilitation and Efficiency: Neighborhood Energy Works or RENEWs, would combine energy efficiency upgrades with community solar garden subscriptions for Low Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP)-eligible customers in the Railroad Island neighborhood on the East Side of Saint Paul.
  • Fresh Energy recognizes that this project is a good start, and filed comments recommending that the pilot project in the Railroad Island neighborhood be used as a model for as many as twelve other neighborhood projects across Xcel’s service territory.

The comments filed by Fresh Energy recommend expanding on several components of Xcel’s concept proposal, including the project scope, budget, and implementation plan. Xcel and its partners plan to serve more than 400 customers through the RENEWs pilot, including 160 community solar garden subscriptions, which will provide a modest bill credit on customers’ electric bills. Xcel will offer the community solar garden subscriptions to customers with no upfront costs, no ongoing fees, no minimum credit score to participate, no long-term contracts, and no penalty for termination. All of these features take significant steps to address barriers discussed by Fresh Energy at the Public Utilities Commission last year.

Although Fresh Energy is generally supportive of Xcel’s innovative project model, we want to ensure that low-income customers throughout Xcel’s service area are able to receive the benefits of energy efficiency upgrades and access to participate in community solar – not just customers in one neighborhood.

Our recommendations are built upon the research carried out by our summer policy fellow, Ramon Molina, who collected and analyzed Census data from over a dozen separate Twin Cities communities in order to find neighborhoods best suited to host projects similar to the one in Railroad Island. The three communities below are selected from a total of twelve that we recommended for expansion of the RENEWs pilot.


Phillips

The Phillips community of Minneapolis has a population of about 20,315 residents. According to 2011-2015 American Community Survey (ACS) estimates, it has a median household income of approximately $26,878. 78.2 percent of the occupied housing units in the Phillips community are renter-occupied, and an estimated 19.1 percent of all housing units were built in or before 1969.

 


Frogtown/Thomas-Dale

The Frogtown/Thomas-Dale neighborhood of Saint Paul has a population of about 15,183 residents. According to 2011-2015 ACS estimates, it has a median household income of approximately $35,126. 62.5 percent of the occupied housing units in the Frogtown/Thomas-Dale neighborhood are renter-occupied, and an estimated 24.5 percent of all housing units were built in or before 1969.

 

 


Near North Minneapolis

The Near North neighborhood of Minneapolis has a population of about 7,012 residents. According to 2011-2015 ACS estimates, it has a median household income of $28,629. 69.3 percent of the occupied housing units in the Near North neighborhood are renter-occupied, and an estimated 18.2 percent of all housing units were built in or before 1969.

 

 


Next Steps toward Solar for All

We’re excited to see Xcel’s efforts to enhance customer access to community solar, especially among those customers who stand to benefit the most from this innovative project. Fresh Energy will continue to work with Xcel, its project partners, and other stakeholders to ensure that more low-income households are able to participate in the RENEWs model.

While the community solar market for Xcel customers provides a unique opportunity to expand access to clean energy, we’ll also continue working in other service territories to expand solar options for families, nonprofits, and businesses across Minnesota.

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