Renewable energy generation through cooperative effort
Individuals can install solar panels on their roofs, gain a tax advantage and reduce their electric bills for years. If they generate enough electricity, they can sell the excess to the power company.
It’s an expensive proposition, though, and not every house is situated in a prime sunny spot.
At its June 4 workshop, the Scandia Council heard an alternative. A community can cooperate with a private company to find a suitable site to install a large array.
The private company leases the site and sells a one-time “subscription” to homeowners and businesses. For the next 25 years, the site owner receives an annual lease payment and the subscribers receive credits on their Xcel Energy electric bills.
Peter Teigland and Steve Coleman, of Minnesota Community Solar, said they had identified potential Scandia sites for a large-scale installation of solar panels, including the rooftops of Scandia Elementary and the Scandia fire station. After mining is complete, they said, the Zavoral Mine site might be a good location for a solar array.
The city’s role would be to help them find a site and recruit subscribers. Minnesota Community Solar would get any government credits and would perform all maintenance for 25 years.
The power generated goes directly to the grid, they said, and credits come from Xcel back to the electricity bills of subscribing homes and businesses. Community partners get paid a commission.
Subscriptions are sold by units, and subscribers decide how many units to buy. The maximum cost per unit would be about $950.
This amount would buy a capacity of 205 watts, producing about 279 kilowatt hours per year. For a typical house, this represents from 2 to 14 percent of energy consumption.
At the meeting, the Minnesota Community Solar representatives did not say what would happen to the equipment after 25 years.
In a phone conversation after the meeting, the subscription manager said after the lease expired, the company might offer to sell the equipment to the site owner, sell it off-site or initiate another 25-year lease.
Maintenance would include monitoring how well the units are performing but would not include snow removal.
The cost of removing snow, Coleman said, is not worth the electricity produced during the three snowiest months, which are already the least productive for solar power generation.
In general, though, Minnesota is a good candidate for solar power. It has the same solar capability as Houston, Texas, or Jacksonville, Florida, with the added advantage that solar equipment operates more efficiently in cooler temperatures.
The solar modules, built in Bloomington, can be placed on flat roofs, parking lots or brownfields that are near electric substation and transmission lines. Roofs should be less than five years old and in good enough condition to support a 25-year lease.
The environmental effect can be significant. A 5-acre field can produce enough electricity for about 500 average homes, Teigland said.
To offset the same amount of carbon dioxide emissions would require planting 79 trees or avoiding 100,000 miles of driving on the road.
The company requires at least five subscribers, with no one taking more than 40 percent of the electricity generated.
Scandia plans to replace the fire station roof in five years, City Administrator Kristina Handt said. Teigland said the lease payments to the city could go toward the cost of the new roof.
The group’s first community partnership, with Northern Sun Merchandizing in Minneapolis, is “fully reserved,” with all subscriptions sold.
A second partnership has been signed with Bethel Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.
Both will be rooftop installations, to begin after the Public Utilities Commission has made its final determinations.
The cost to subscribe was $954 per unit. A few homeowners bought one unit, some bought a few, and others bought enough to generate 50 or 100 percent of the electricity they use. The most units purchased by one subscriber was 29.
Subscribers can be as far away as the next county, but not in Wisconsin, which borders Scandia on the east.
“You came to the right city,” Council Member Sally Swanson concluded, predicting that Scandia residents will be interested.