In December 2011, CEF began discussions with local commercial and non-profit energy users about hosting a community-owned solar array that would open up access to clean energy ownership. In 2012, we built experience with the process of working with major host sites and investors, and have three projects ranging from 15kW to 25kW awaiting rebate awards from Xcel Energy that are financed independently so that the sites hosting the panels do not have to pay for the system up front. These projects are a pilot for launching true community solar in 2013, and are allowing us to work through the steps of securing an investor, creating a legal structure, working with installers, coordinating local sites and more.
Community Solar opens up a huge realm of opportunities for residents who cannot currently participate in solar. Currently, only about 5% of households have all the factors needed to participate in a roof-top, owner-financed approach to solar that has so far been common:
- Owning their own building and rooftop
- Having a south-facing roof that is structurally okay for solar
- Not having substantial shading of that roof
- Having the financial resources/ ability to access private financing to afford it.
Through a community solar model, renters, people with homes that are poor solar sites, and people able to invest as little as $500-$1,000 can participate in owning clean energy. It also creates an economy of scale that can provide a greater rate of return.
In April 2013, Cooperative Energy Futures launched a Community Solar working group of interested community members and solar and legal experts to develop a pilot series of community solar projects across the Twin Cities, with a goal of initial installs in 2014. Please contact General Manager Timothy DenHerder-Thomas at email@example.com, (612) 250-1621 if you are interested in joining future planning meetings.
Recommend a Host Site: If you know a potential location interested in serving as a host site of a community solar array, you can now collect site information and send a recommendation to CEF. Here’s how:
- You can use our community solar handout to inform potential sites about the project idea
- We will have case studies of similar projects around the country available soon
- You can fill out either a Word doc version of the Host Site interest survey and send it to us or use this Online Survey Monkey survey to tell us about the site.
Submitting a Host Site Interest Survey does not commit the host site to anything, and it does not obligate CEF to use it as a site. Rather, it’s just a way for us to start building relationships with likely community solar host sites.
Currently pending state legislation would open up a new channel for community solar in Minnesota, so given that this is not yet available, there are two different options for how community solar could work:
- Currently allowed: A group of community members gets together (via an LLC) and finances and owns a solar array located on a local business, place of worship, school, non-profit, or other local institution. The LLC sells electricity to the site on which the panels are located and distributes profits to community members.
- Possible in the future pending legislation currently under discussion: A group of community members gets together and owns and finances a solar array located on a local business, place of worship, school, non-profit, or other local institution. They get direct bill credits to their bill for their share of the electricity produced by the array, as if it was on their own home. The site on which the panels were located could get some portion of the energy too.
Specific sites, legal models to allow investment, and direct opportunities to participate are not yet available, but we are ready to start building a list of people interested in learning more and joining in community solar arrays. If you are interested in this model and might want to join in as a community solar owner, please sign up below!