Community solar garden coming to Hennepin County

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A community solar garden will be built this fall by Xcel Energy in partnership with Able Energy, allowing Xcel customers to produce their own solar energy.

The Hennepin County Solar Array will be a 1-megawatt field with about 4,000 panels and will produce 1.3 gigawatt hours of energy each year—enough energy to power about 150 homes, according to Able Energy, based in River Falls, Wis. The solar garden is being built as part of an effort to meet the state’s solar energy requirement of 1.5 percent by 2020.

“This garden allows consumers to take advantage of the benefits of producing their own energy instead of buying energy with prices marked up by utilities,” said Mike Harvey, president of Able Energy. “It’s just like growing your own vegetables instead of buying them at the grocery store.”

Able Energy marketing director Ben Ganje said, “It works like a line item on your energy bill. The solar energy you make subtracts from the total.”

“Utility companies are raising their rates by five to eight percent a year, but renewable energy prices are much more stable,” Ganje said.

The companies will begin breaking ground on the project once the garden has reached its quota of subscribers, which is growing at a rate of six to seven per day. Harvey expects the construction to start around September. “We’re hoping to build a second one after the first garden is fully subscribed,” he said.

The garden must be located within the borders of Hennepin County even though the location has not yet been determined. Once built, the garden will be maintained by the two companies.

“Solar energy is about to blow up in Minnesota, because people are finally realizing its potential here,” Ganje said. “It’s a very reliable and bankable energy source and you can easily predict your return on your investment.”

Renewable energy is cheaper and cleaner than traditional energy sources like coal and oil, Ganje said.

“Traditional energy is usually derived from a nonrenewable source. We call it ‘black energy’ because it harms the environment, like burning coal,” Ganje said. “But once a solar panel is up and running, it is completely environmentally friendly.”

Three information sessions will be held in May to share general knowledge with the community about solar energy, as well as how to participate in the solar garden. People will be able to sign up for the garden at the meetings, or they can visit www.weknowsolar.com to join the program.

Alyssa Bluhm is studying journalism at the University of Minnesota. 

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Info meetings:

May 8 / 7 p.m. / Logan Recreation Center, 690 13th Ave. NE

May 14 / 7 p.m. / Armatage Recreation Center, 2500 W. 57th St.

May 22 / 7 p.m. / Bryant Square Recreation Center, 3101 Bryant Ave. S.