At a time when the Minnesota Legislature is considering a proposal that would create a solar electricity standard, community solar projects are gaining popularity.  Six weeks from now, Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association will begin construction on Minnesota’s first community solar program, with the goal of having the project completed by Memorial Day.

A community solar program gives utility customers and other members of the designated community the option to buy solar panels that will be included in an array built in a communal location, rather than on the purchaser’s roof or in their backyard.  Participants receive the benefit of a monthly credit on their electric bill while avoiding the cost of maintaining the panels.  To enroll in Wright-Hennepin’s program, located in Rockford, Minnesota, participants purchased panels priced at $869 each.  The 171 panels in the array sold out in four months. 

Wright-Hennepin will use panels built by Bloomington, Minnesota-based TenKSolar that provide a total of 53,000 kW of power – enough to power four homes.  In addition, the Wright-Hennepin project will be the first in the nation to incorporate battery storage.  The batteries, from Silent Power of Baxter, Minnesota, will enable the utility to use the stored power for load shifting when the sunshine is weak but customer demand is high.

While community solar projects are just getting started in Minnesota, they are already popular in states like Colorado, where two years ago the state legislature passed a law encouraging the development of such projects.  Were the Minnesota Legislature to create a solar electricity standard, community solar projects could become a popular way for the utilities’ to fulfill their obligations.