Community solar garden opens in Camden

Ward 4 Councilmember Phillipe Cunningham and House District 59A State Representative Fue Lee at the Impact CSG ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Ward 4 Councilmember Phillipe Cunningham and House District 59A State Representative Fue Lee at the Impact CSG ribbon-cutting ceremony.

 

 

The largest rooftop solar installation in the Twin Cities can now be found right here in Camden! On September 26 a ribbon-cutting ceremony, attended by Ward 4 Councilmember Phillipe Cunningham and House District 59A State Representative Fue Lee, heralded the “opening” of a solar installation on the roof of Impact, a multi-service direct marketing company at 4600 Lyndale Avenue. A portion of the solar arrays will be used by Impact themselves in the running of their business, with the bulk of the installation forming a community solar garden (CSG) dedicated primarily to benefiting low-income communities.

“We are always looking for ways to positively impact the community around us and hope this initiative will encourage others to follow suit,” says Impact President Mark Anderson.

The Impact CSG is the result of a joint project between Greenway Solar and the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society (MRES). The project includes a second CSG that will be ground-mounted on unused farmland in Hayfield, Dodge County. Once both CSGs are operating, combined they will produce one megawatt of solar-generated power.

Greenway Solar is a Minneapolis-based solar developer with a focus on providing cheaper energy to low-income households, businesses and nonprofits in the Twin Cities area. Greenway rents space from local businesses to develop and manage community solar gardens, and uses Minnesota labor to both build the solar panels and install the solar arrays.

MRES is a nonprofit dedicated to educating Minnesotans about renewable energy through community projects, exhibits and events. They are the recipient of a $2.6 million Renewal Development Fund grant from Xcel Energy to build several community solar gardens, including the new Impact installation.

What is a community solar garden?

First, it isn’t actually a garden! Solar developers like Greenway (there are a number of solar developers in the Twin Cities) install solar panels either on the roof of a large building that has been constructed within the past five years and is free of shade, or in a large open field. The CSG’s energy output is then fed directly into the utility (Xcel Energy in this case) via an interconnection to Xcel’s grid.

Burning fossil fuels for electricity/power is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.  Switching to solar energy helps reduce the amount of CO2 (leading cause of climate change), SO2 (leading cause of acid rain) and NOx (leading cause of smog). The average home that switches to solar energy has the same environmental impact as planting 200 trees a year!

How does a CSG subscription work?

A CSG allows members to benefit from the cost savings of renewal energy without actually owning/installing the solar array. The CSG solar developer sells power produced from the solar installation to Xcel Energy. Renters, homeowners, businesses and nonprofits can participate as long as they have an account with Xcel. You can sign up (or “subscribe”) for a portion of the solar energy created by the CSG based on up to 120% of your historical electricity usage. You will sign a service contract directly with the solar developer, with payments made on a pay-as-you-go basis. Xcel will continue to bill you monthly, but you can expect to receive credits that lower your bill based on your solar subscription. A portion of the credits generated by the subscription get paid to the solar developer for building, maintaining and monitoring the CSG, with the balance of the credits going back to you the subscriber.

Savings will fluctuate from month-to-month. In the summer, when the days are long and the sun is out, your Xcel bill could reflect a credit balance (so nothing to pay!) since you will be using less than your CSG subscription is producing. In the winter, when days are shorter (or when the sun isn’t out for protracted lengths of time), your Xcel bill will reflect usage that you need to pay for, in addition to making your service contact payment to your solar developer.

It should be noted that actual savings can vary from 2% to 7%, depending on how the solar developer has funded the CSG and manages the installation. Since Greenway Solar has a stated philanthropic approach to their solar garden development activities, and through highly managed streamlining, they are projecting closer to a 20% savings to a subscriber on the Greenway-Impact CSG.

Low-income households to benefit

An estimated 150 low-income households have the potential to benefit from reduced electricity costs once both the Impact and Hayfield CSGs are in operation.

Kitrina Stratton, former MRES Chair and a resident of the Folwell neighborhood, has been working to make the Impact project a reality for over three years. “Our goal with this project is to bring the reduced costs and benefits of solar power to low-income households who don’t often get the chance to experience these kinds of programs,” says Stratton. “Statistically, these families pay a higher percentage of their income to utilities and are frequently overlooked when these kinds of energy programs are brought to market.”

Who can subscribe to the Greenway-Impact CSG?

If you rent or own a house or apartment, are individual Xcel Energy customers in Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka, Wright, Dakota, Scott or Carver Counties, and you are eligible for any of the following programs, you qualify to subscribe to the Greenway-Impact CSG:

  • Minnesota Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
  • Medical Assistance
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
  • Minnesota Department of Health Women, Infant, Children (WIC) Program
  • Head Start
  • Free/Reduced Cost School Meals
  • Public Housing
  • Section 8 HUD Housing
  • Section 202 HUD Housing (for seniors)
  • Section 811 HUD Housing (for disabled persons)
  • Other programs for persons with income less than 125% of the federal guidelines

How to subscribe to a CSG

If you meet the low-income eligibility criteria and are interested in subscribing to the Greenway-Impact CSG (or other Greenway CSGs in the Metro area, they currently serve 12 Minnesota counties), Greenway can walk you through the sign-up process. Contact Greenway at  greenwaysolar.org/subscribe/,  info@greenwaysolar.org or 612-318-6369.

Households not meeting the low-income criteria for the Greenway-Impact CSG can contact Cooperative Energy Futures (CEF), a community-owned clean energy cooperative based in South Minneapolis, at cooperativeenergyfutures.com/.

To learn more about renewal energy visit the MRES website at mnrenewables.org/.