Many Ways to Go Solar

by Tim Wulling

Shady or sunny roof? It doesn’t matter. Not a property owner? That might not matter either.

Anyone with an Xcel Energy electric bill has options for going solar. Even if you don’t get an electric bill, supporting solar with a modest—or large—investment is still possible. 

Community solar: Subscribe—or invest 

In the metro area, subscribing to a community solar garden is the easiest way to go solar. Here’s how it works: A developer leases an urban rooftop or a rural field and installs a large array of solar panels— a solar “garden.” As a subscriber you get credit for some of the electricity produced by the array. Xcel enters a credit on your bill for your portion of the solar production.

There’s a catch, of course. The developer sends you a monthly bill to help pay for the solar installation and operation. But you come out ahead. The credit on your electric bill is larger than what you pay the developer. (And if you pay a few thousand dollars up front for “your” solar panels, your monthly payment to the developer is even less.) Either way, with auto-pay the inconvenience of two monthly bills is small.

If you’re a St. Paul resident ready to subscribe to a solar garden, an option right now is Cooperative Energy Futures’ [CEF] Ramp A project, a huge array on top of a parking ramp by Target Field in Minneapolis. CEF, a Minneapolis-based solar co-op, is also pushing to get community solar gardens on St. Paul school buildings. Become a member of CEF for $25, then subscribe to one of their existing solar gardens or invest in additional shares in the co-op to fund new ones. Read their investment documents carefully.

For six years, Transition Town – ASAP’s Community Solar Group has sought a solar garden in our own neighborhood. But finding a commercial building with the right roof and an owner willing to lease it for the life of the array has been surprisingly difficult. Currently, the most likely prospect is just outside St. Anthony Park and has made no commitment. 

Rooftop solar for your home or business 

Your best return on a solar investment comes if you own a property with good sun exposure (check the map at solar.maps.umn.edu). An installer puts an array on your roof, signs you up with Xcel for net metering, and applies for rebates. You can have outright ownership, or in some arrangements you can lease the array and avoid much of the up-front cost. 

Some organizations offer “bulk buy” programs. The organization vets installers, and you get a pricing advantage as part of a larger project. Bulk buys have been—and might again be—offered by Midwest Renewable Energy Association and Cooperative Energy Futures. Check them out.

Join our June 22 solstice picnic

Meet neighbors and share info on going solar at Transition Town – ASAP’s summer solstice potluck picnic at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, June 22 at Hampden Park. Bring a dish to share, picnicware for yourself, lawn chairs or blanket, and a Frisbee or other lawn games. Check out our solar oven and taste some samples! Beverages and music provided. Rain location: 971 Manvel Street, just north of the park. 

Meanwhile, visit these helpful websites.

Clean Energy Resource Teams: CleanEnergyResourceTeams.org/solargardens 

Cooperative Energy Futures: CooperativeEnergyFutures.com

Midwest Renewable Energy Association: MidwestRenew.org

Minnesota Commerce Department: https://mn.gov/commerce/consumers/your-home/energy-info/solar

Tim Wulling is a retired electrical engineer and lifelong renewable energy advocate. He lives in St. Anthony Park.

On the roof of Deneen Pottery last spring, Niles Deneen with installers from Midway-based All Energy Solar. The pottery on Capp Road is now partly powered by the 400-panel array. Photo by Mindy Keskinen.

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