This week, Xcel Energy filed a “concept proposal” to develop a community solar garden project intended to serve low-income customers. The proposal comes on the heels of months of advocacy for improved low-income community solar offerings from Fresh Energy and many partner organizations at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
Xcel’s filing is a “concept proposal,” which means they are submitting a number of ideas to the Commission rather than the detailed pilot project proposal that was expected.
The first option is to work with the EnergyCENTS Coalition to develop a hybrid energy efficiency/community solar project in the Railroad Island neighborhood of Saint Paul.
EnergyCENTS Coalition would administer and manage the efficiency program. The program would include a Home Energy Squad visit, an energy audit, and information on access to and the benefits of other programs such as rebate programs, third-party financing, and community solar.
For the solar project, Xcel would partner with a locally-based bank to finance the development of a 0.5 megawatt solar facility on a tax-forfeited parcel in Railroad Island. EnergyCENTS Coalition would administer the community solar garden and manage subscriptions. Subscribers would be Low Income Heating Assistance Program eligible members of the immediate community. Xcel would intend to make subscriptions available at similar subscription prices to what other customers are currently receiving, no long-term commitment, no minimum credit score, and no up-front payments.
Under the second option, if the Railroad Island idea proves unworkable, Xcel would pursue the development of a one megawatt utility-offered community solar garden in or adjacent to Hennepin or Ramsey County. For the energy efficiency side of the project, Xcel would likely partner with an existing contract service provider with the goal of serving up to 200 Low Income Heating Assistance Program recipients.
What happens next?
Xcel Energy will continue developing a project scope, budget, and implementation plan, with a supplemental pilot project proposal expected within 90 days. After a supplemental proposal is submitted, Fresh Energy and other low income community solar advocates will have a chance to weigh in with formal comments.
While there is plenty of work left to do in order to ensure a successful program that expands access to solar options people of all incomes, Xcel’s proposal is particularly strong in proposing subscriptions for customers without long-term contracts, minimum credit score requirements, or upfront costs. We are hopeful that those program provisions can be incorporated effectively moving forward.