Community solar projects start taking shape

Credit: Solar panels stand above Pat's Tap at 35th & Nicollet. Photo courtesy of Sundial Solar

A few community solar projects in Minneapolis are nearly ready for subscribers.

Sundial Solar and Linden Hills Power and Light are finalizing contracts to install solar panels above the Linden Hills Co-op, Church of St. Thomas the Apostle on West 44th and Eureka Recycling in Northeast Minneapolis.

Following an upfront payment, subscribers would see a solar energy deduction on their Xcel bills. Sixty households have already expressed interest in the project with very little marketing, said Jamie Long of Linden Hills Power and Light.

“It’s been really exciting to see how many neighbors want to support solar,” he said.

He expects about 400 subscriptions to become available.

“There is more demand for community solar subscriptions than there is likely to be supply in the short-term,” said Michael Krause, director of business development for Sundial Solar.

A few other local projects are in development:

— Cooperative Energy Futures (CEF) is working on a project to install solar panels above Shiloh Temple International Ministries in North Minneapolis. The small project aims to make solar more affordable. One subscription would produce 260 kilowatt-hours per year, at a projected cost under $450. Instead of requiring a bulk payment upfront, payments could be spread on a monthly schedule.

“We’re doing a lot of work on innovative financing for people with low credit scores,” said Timothy DenHerder-Thomas, CEF general manager.

The group expects to take subscribers in the coming months, and DenHerder-Thomas said many are interested in learning the details.

“There is a ton of interest,” he said. “They’re interested in how to be less dependent on energy bills they can’t really control.”

— Another developing project would feature solar panels on the First Unitarian Society in Lowry Hill and First Universalist Church in CARAG. Bill Elwood of East Isles is assisting with the project, and said the churches are working on a contract with a solar developer.

— The Lake Street Energy Challenge (formerly called Partners in Energy) could help facilitate community solar projects for neighborhoods along the Midtown corridor, Elwood said.

— Sundial Solar is working with Innovative Power Systems to develop a community solar project with multiple rooftop installations along the Green Line. They hope to develop enough solar energy to offset all of the power for the trains and transit stations, Krause said.

A few other neighborhood groups have expressed interest in community solar, including Kingfield, East Isles and The Wedge.

Krause said Linden Hills’ project is one of the first small-scale projects open to renters, small businesses and homeowners. Most previously submitted projects are large-scale systems out in farm fields with institutional or commercial subscribers like Ecolab, he said.

Linden Hills’ solar program details

The cost of Sundial’s community solar subscriptions will vary by site, but a 1 kilowatt subscription would likely cost $1,600-$1,700, Krause said. One subscription would generate 1,350 kilowatt-hours of electrical power each year on average, depending on weather conditions.

“If you are a typical household you probably need a 5 kilowatt subscription to offset 100 percent of energy use,” Krause said.

A renter would need less, and a business would need 10-20 kilowatts, he said.

“It’s almost as if you’re prepaying electric bills for the next 25 years at today’s electric rates,” he said.

Payback on the investment through energy credits is estimated to take eight or nine years. Contracts span 25 years, and subscriptions can be sold or traded. People who relocate within Xcel territory can take a subscription with them to a new address.

The Linden Hills Neighborhood Council (LHiNC) board may provide financing to open up broader access to solar, Long said. The community solar project is open to anyone, but a financing package through LHiNC would likely only be open to Linden Hills residents.

Bill credits would likely begin in late 2015 or early 2016, Krause said.