Steve Schmidt teaches a college class on renewable energy and always wanted to install solar panels on his Corcoran home but found the cost prohibitive. Yet last year he became an energy producer after buying one panel in Minnesota’s first community-based solar project.
Sponsored by Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association, the community solar project will be built on a small, treeless hill behind its Rockford office.
“To put a few panels on my roof along with the micro-inverters would cost more than $30,000, and I don’t have that much money,” Schmidt said. “This program is an easy way into supporting solar.”
A community solar program offers utility customers or residents in a neighborhood or city a chance to buy panels and have them installed in a communal area that might be a community center or a library rooftop or on the grounds of a utility. A nonprofit, utility or municipality typically organizes the projects. If Wright-Hennepin’s experience is any indication, it could be popular in other places.
The utility, which serves cities in the western suburbs, sold 171 panels at $869 each in just four months. The project will use solar panels from Bloomington-based TenKSolar, which will provide 53,000 kilowatts of power, enough to take care of the energy needs of four homes. Wright-Hennepin’s is the first community solar project in the nation to incorporate battery storage, which will be provided by Baxter-based Silent Power Inc.
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