New community projects provide solar in Minnesota

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Construction of Minnesota’s first community solar project finished last week and is expected to be up and running by the end of July.

Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association, through a partnership with Clean Energy Collective, has found a way to provide residents in Rockford, Minn., with solar energy for their homes without the stress of construction and maintenance and having panels atop their roofs.

The company completed its first community solar project, often called a solar garden, this month. The 170-panels were installed July 17, said Kristina Moritz, communications specialist with the company. The project is expected to be running the last week of July.

The project is located on Wright-Hennepin’s property in Rockford. The company takes care of construction and maintenance. People can buy power from the project, reserving as many panels as they want, Moritz said. Some people reserved enough to power their entire home, while others wanted to just supplement their power source, she said.

Some people hope to build up their solar supply, buying a panel or two at a time, instead of having to pay a large lump sum at once for a full installation on a home. People who buy into the project get a credit on their electric bill, she said. Each panel cost $869. Seventeen customers signed up, buying between one and 36 panels each. Each panel is 190 watts. The project is already sold out, but the response was so great from the community, Wright-Hennepin is planning another community solar project of the same size to be built this fall and is taking reservations for those panels. (Only Wright-Hennepin customers are eligible to buy panels). It too will be situated on Wright-Hennepin’s property.

While this is the first project the company has built, Moritz expects the community method to become a common way to provide people with energy while alleviating the burden of construction and installation and maintenance. It’s a way to reap the benefits of solar power, without the hassle.

While there are similar community projects elsewhere in the country, such as in Colorado, New Mexico and Maryland, the Wright-Hennepin project is the first member-owned solar community project in Minnesota and the first in the nation to incorporate solar energy with battery storage which allows the company to store power produced during the day to be used in the evening when energy demand is highest.

Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association was founded in 1937 and is one of Minnesota’s largest member-owned electric utilities. It distributes electricity to more than 46,000 homes, businesses and farms.