Building equity through renewable energy

This article was written by Kristel Porter

Given how much we all depend on electric power in our daily lives, investing in the capacity to generate one’s own electricity with a solar array is a good way to build wealth. Almost all residential solar customers have been white and wealthy. A positive trend over the past three decades, is that as the price of solar has come down, more and more middle-class people have been able to buy solar. But another pattern that continues is that almost all of them are white.

The rooftop solar market has not engaged much with communities of color. In fact, it can cost a residential household around $30,000 to retrofit solar and it is nearly impossible to get financing if you have “fair credit” and a couple late payments. Consequently, there has been little opportunity to build wealth through ownership of solar on the Northside.

MN Renewable Now is creating a program to offer rooftop solar power systems to properties on the near Northside of Minneapolis, and to flip the ownership to the property owners. The plan has worked quite well to build fundraising momentum for a region which has had difficulty attracting capital for such things.

MN Renewable Now and partners will be the third party owner for six years in order to repay investors by selling the solar power at a discount to the property owners (less than what they are currently paying) which would make it relatively easy for them to participate in the program. Each system would also be registered in the Xcel Energy Solar Rewards program for additional incentive payments. After the six years has passed, the solar system would be assigned or deeded over to the owner of the property.

We are targeting North Minneapolis specifically in the 55411 zip code. Due to North Minneapolis’ area median income and demographics which labels them as the North Green Zone, we are inspired by the challenge of this community that some would view as “lemons” by turning it to the sweetest lemonade.

After much research and insight, we have identified a project manager, engineer, solar assessor, residential contractor, and solar installers who are all Black/African-American and all reside within North Minneapolis (trust us; it wasn’t easy). As a bonus, through this project (which will become a program), we will provide solar installation and OSHA training to those interested in choosing solar as a career path.

The property owners will be responsible for solar assessments fee, and transfer of ownership. Community members will be receiving a $30,000 solar installation for under $2,000.

The total project is $750,000. We currently have $350,000 in investments, applying for grant funding for $100,000, which leaves us with $300,000 to raise.

We are confident, that with the community’s help, we can reach our goal and complete this project. Info