More than 50 residents came to a 101 session on community solar on Thursday March 5th. Hosted by Sunshare, a solar developer from Colorado and endorsed by Power Up Winona to host a community solar array in Winona County. Residents asked many questions about how the program works and how to subscribe. Ken Bradely, Sunshare's Minnesota
SunShare is offering community solar in Winona, and will be distributing information at the Frozen River Film Festival. Stop by between 2:30 and 6 pm, in the Atrium of the Science Lab Center on the Winona State Campus. Learn about how you can have access to solar even if you can't install a residential system.
We are also planning an informational meeting for Thursday March 5th at the History Center.
In 2013 Minnesota passed the laws the allow for community solar in the Xcel Utility area. Xcel had to write a program to work with independent community solar gardens (CSGs) and this program just opened for subscriptions in December of 2014.
In general, a CSG developer builds a larger (1 megawatt maximum) solar electric array in the Xcel billing area. Xcel customers (in the same or a contiguous county) can purchase subscriptions to cover up to 120% of their average electrical usage. As the array generates electricity Xcel must buy it at a specified rate which is several cents above their average retail rate for the state. Subscribers are given a credit on their Xcel bill for their share of the electricity produced.
To learn more about the details of the program check out the Clean Energy Resource Teams community solar page. CERTs is affiliated with the University of Minnesota, MN Dept of Commerce, US Dept of Energy and several Minnesota foundations and has been a leader in researching how Minnesota community solar policy will be developed.
Community solar developers have figured out a way to use the incentives embedded in the rate that Xcel pays for community solar electricity in Minnesota to allow the subscriber to pay for their subscription. This means you can subscribe to a CSG virtually for free, and over your 25 year subscription use your Xcel CSG bill credit to pay, and still keep 5 to 10 percent of the bill credits.
Community Solar greatly expands the people who have access to clean emission free electricity. And Power Up Winona community solar participants are working to bring a CSG to Winona. If you are interested send us your contact information and when subscription reservation opens we will contact you.
How much you can subscribe to is dependent on how much electricity you used in the past, so look at your Xcel bills and tell us how much in KiloWatt hours you used last year.
You may be like my wife and me—you’d like to own a solar array but your house or building gets too much shade to make it practical. Or your roof is too small, you rent, or the up-front costs are more than you can afford.
Thanks to a bill passed this last session by the MN Legislature, we’re in luck. Through what are called “Community Solar Gardens,” any Minnesota resident or non-profit organization—including schools, churches, cooperatives, credit unions, foundations, civic groups, and so on--can own a hunk of a solar array and benefit from the electricity it produces.
Community solar gardens make it simple and affordable to go solar. And Power Up Winona Community Solar is a group of people in Winona County who are taking advantage of this.
A community solar garden is an array of dozens or hundreds of panels installed in one spot that’s optimal for sun. They can be on a big, flat roof, an open field, or a hillside. And the array can be miles away from you—even in the next county. And for as little as $100 that you will get back in short order, you can buy some of those panels. That’s it. A company—think of it as your solar landlord—chooses the site, installs the array, maintains it, and deals with all of the other renters. You just sit back and look forward to your next bill from Xcel.
Yes, look forward to your Xcel bill. Because it will show not just your use, but what YOUR solar panels produce. And Xcel has to pay for that solar electricity. In fact, you’re allowed to have enough panels to produce up to 1/5th more electricity than you use. Xcel has to pay for all of it. No, you don't get to reduce your electricity bill to zero by making NO investment or payment. But you WILL save 5% on your bill or perhaps a little more, guaranteed, for 25 years.
So let’s see: 1) You have the satisfaction of knowing that your panels are producing electricity that doesn’t come from coal, gas, or nuclear; 2) You reduce your electrical bill by 5%; 3) You bring investments and jobs to your community; 4) Along with other people and organizations in your community, you own a local solar array; and 5) It costs you nothing.
Comments by local supporter Lynette Power
We are behind in the clean affordable energy revolution. The time is right for Solar to take off.
Other states are tooling up and Europe is way ahead of the game.
As a person concerned about the nature and environmental issues since the 1960s, I have been exasperated by the environmental impacts of the coal, oil, bio petroleum and nuclear energy generation. Now the desperation of extreme extraction methods with artic oil exploration, tar sands and hydraulic fracturing practices of oil industries have intensified the problems exponentially and I will not even go into climate change.
I am determined to pull the plug on the fossil fuel industry to whatever extent I can through conservation and working for renewable energies. Along with conservation, Community Solar is one way this can happen. We can move our community toward a more sustainable future.
My home is not an efficient site for a solar array because there is no large south facing roof. I have had assessments done twice in the past 6 years and while the efficiency of the panels is going up and the costs of panels are coming down, the price of my own array would be far more burdensome than the high Xcel Energy bills.
When I was invited to get involved in the development of Community Solar in Winona I was really fired up. It is a great way to combat feelings of powerless and being at the mercy of the big corporate profiteers as we get together and start working in such a positive direction.
I have been learning all that can about solar energy. Two months ago I did not know the difference between a volt, amp and watt. I considered building some of my own panels to help me learn what was involved and began researching that plan. It was humbled as I realized how much I had to learn.
I am so happy we have this opportunity to get a 1 Megawatt Community Solar array in our area as a first step toward sustainability. I would like to share my excitement and some of the things I have learned. Here are some links to informative videos on Community Solar from the last few days of research.
Power Up Winona-Community Solar and local institutions heard from three solar developers on Friday November 21 at St. Mary’s University. The short workshop was the culmination of a SE Clean Energy Resource Team grant to explore the options and possibilities that local institutions can play in a future community solar array to be located in the Xcel billing area of Winona County.
The 2013 Minnesota Energy Omnibus bill created the framework for the Xcel community solar gardens program. Gardens can be established with up to 1 megawatt of solar, and customers can subscribe and then receive a credit for the electricity produced on their bill. The program greatly expands the public’s access to solar beyond just 25% of homeowners who have sufficient solar access to install a residential system.
Power Up Winona Community Solar was formed to bring different voices to the table and see what kind of motivation and efforts local residents would want to play in bringing a community array to the Winona area. Over the summer the group reached out to Winona State, St Mary’s University, the City of Winona, Minnesota State College Southeast Technical and the Winona Area Public School system inviting their representatives to learn how they could subscribe or possibly act as a host site for a solar array.
Friday’s workshop included developers from Minnesota who have experience with community solar projects and have a wide range of options and strategies for local groups interested in such projects. The developers included Minnesota Community Solar, TruNorth Solar and Michael Krause of Kandiyo Consulting.
Participating in the workshop/presentation were; from WSU, President Olson, and members from the Sustain Winona Committee, St. Mary’s University, Superintendent West from Winona Area Public Schools, the City of Winona, and members from the Power Up Winona Community Solar group.
Power Up Winona will complete the final steps of the grant by writing a document with the help of Stoel Rives law firm.
Two of the primary steps of bringing an array to the Winona area include; acquiring or leasing 3-8 acres of land in the Xcel utility area and signing up subscribers who are interested in the next step in making renewable energy their primary source of power. PUWCS is looking for both subscribers and landowners who may be interested in participating in the project. Landowners interested in selling or leasing land for the project can contact mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our web site and submit a comment.
Some policy experts believe that in the long run Minnesota will use the Value of Solar Tariff as the rate to pay community solar subscribers for the electricity and see last weeks decision to use the Adjusted Retail Rate as a 'breather'. The PUC is taking comments from parties through October 1st and Stoel Rives attorney Sara Bergan believes there is still a lot of momentum to get VOST right and use it. You can read more in this article from Solar Industry Mag http://solarindustrymag.com/e107_plugins/content/content.php?content.14461
Minnesota Public Utilities Commission met last Thursday (8/7/14) and the message is mixed. The good news is that they moved ahead with something called an Applicable Retail Rate (ARR) which will be paid to subscribers to a community solar garden. This is critical as community solar projects can finally start to move forward. The bad news is that many of the community solar providers testified that the uncertainty of not using the Value of Solar Tariff (VOST), which was what was supposed to be used, will cause issues such that community solar projects will have trouble finding financers. I guess we will find out when we try to find financing.
You can read more at this link http://www.midwestenergynews.com/2014/08/07/minnesota-regulators-side-with-utility-in-value-of-solar-case/
Per the details of the Xcel Community Solar Program
Community Solar – in very general terms Community Solar describes a situation where there is a larger centrally located solar array. Residents buy or lease the solar panels, or the power that comes from them. Their local utility purchases the electricity produced by the array, and credits the residents for their share on their electric bill.
Minnesota joined 12 other states that allow and encourage community solar when our legislation was passed last year.
It greatly expands access to solar for those who don’t own a home, and the 75% of homeowners who don’t have good enough solar access.
The programs vary from state to state so here is how it works in Minnesota.
Only Xcel is required to have a community solar program. Because it is very popular, a couple utilities, such as Tri-County electric went ahead and have installed their own ‘utility owned’ array. What we are proposing is different from Tri-county in that we will locate and work with a community solar developer to establish the array, and it will probably be owned by a 3rd party financer.
Xcel Energy filed their proposal in September of last year, and have been negotiating with the Public Utilities Commission on the final rules. These are now finally complete and projects all over the state are about to start moving forward.