Linden Hills Co-op completes ‘Rays the Roof’ project

After years of dreaming, the Linden Hills Co-op has installed 54 solar panels on the roof of its building at 2813 43rd St. W.

The "Rays the Roof" project began in 2004 when Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-60B), a member of the co-op, contacted Innovative Power Systems (IPS), a development company specializing in solar energy systems, to install solar panels on the roof of his Linden Hills home. IPS told him that, due to an overabundance of shade, solar panels wouldn’t be very beneficial, and instead, connected him with the Linden Hills co-op.

"In the end, what we have to do is demonstrate solar power is here, it’s real, it’s economical and it has tremendous environmental benefits," Hornstein said. "As long as that gets out, I don’t care who the messenger is."

He put the money that he would’ve used on his house into the co-op’s roof and teamed up with the co-op’s General Manager, Paula Gilbertson, to start fundraising.

The co-op put up signs at their registers, sent out mailings to their members and got local businesses to contribute thousands of dollars in matching grants. They began to stall at around $30,000 – halfway to their goal – when Gilbertson noticed that "people all of a sudden became much more aware of environmental issues."

The co-op gave it a final push last summer, putting together a small group of board and community members to concentrate on raising the last $32,000. They held a benefit concert with local folk duo Neil and Leanndra, applied for a grant from the Linden Hills Neighborhood Association, and asked for more matching grants from businesses. By Oct. 17, the co-op had reached their goal.

The 54-panel roof was installed on June 8. It can generate up to 9.8-kilowatt hours of electricity on a sunny day and will remove 12,500 pounds of carbon from the air each year. According to Gilbertson, the project is equivalent to three energy-efficient houses. It’s directly wired, switching automatically between grid energy and solar power depending on the weather. The co-op expects to save 10 to 15 percent on electricity costs, but "the biggest benefit for us is educating more people about solar power," said Gilbertson and "having the conversation with the 800-900 customers who come in a day."

Co-op shoppers are able to watch the solar panels working in real-time by checking out a solar generator monitor located inside the store. The display shows what’s currently being powered; how much energy was generated over the last week, month and year; and learn about other community-sponsored alternative-energy options.

The community grocery store opened in 1976 with a passion for less-processed, less-packaged foods and has grown into a 4,200-member organization with a focus on energy efficiency.

"Even though our sales have grown," says Gilbertson, "our energy usage has not."

Reach Mary O’Regan at [email protected] or 612-436-5088.