SolarCity breaks into Minnesota Community Solar

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SolarCity is rolling out a community solar program in Minnesota that focus on renters, low income housing residents, and schools. The program is open to Xcel account holders. This venture will provide 100 MW of solar in 1 MW solar gardens by the end of the year. To put this in perspective, GTM Research and SEIA report that there are currently only 66 MW of community solar operating in the US at this time. In effect, this project will more than double the country’s community solar output, and all of that will be in Minnesota.

In a move to keep the project local, SolarCity has partnered with the Minnetonka-based solar developer Sunrise Energy Ventures. They also plan to hire local installers and operations personnel to build the projects. Dean Leischow, CEO of Sunrise Energy Ventures, said, “We chose SolarCity as a partner because of its solid track record of residential service and its commitment to help Minnesota rate payers utilize clean power at a savings.”

Once the installations are complete at the end of the year, the eligible parties can subscribe to purchase solar from the gardens. They will remain connected to the grid, but an estimated 70 to 80 percent of their power will be provided by solar. The solar that customers purchase from SolarCity at a 13 cent per kWh rate will be credited by Xcel energy at a 14.7 cent per kWh rate for up to 25 years.

“The State of Minnesota and its Public Utilities Commission have made a significant contribution to the proliferation of solar power by passing solar garden legislation,” said Jesse Jones, SolarCity’s vice president of development and acquisitions. “They’ve also made it possible for subscribers to have an involvement with locally-generated clean power, rather than a credit for or certificate representing solar kilowatts generated far, far away.”

Of course not everyone is thrilled with the idea. The Minnesota Star Tribune reports that the project is at odds wtih Xcel energy on the placement of the gardens. Dean Leischow was quoted in the Twin Cities Business Magazine as saying, “Each solar garden can only be 1 megawatt [or 1 million watts] in size to limit the number of subscribers. Right now the legislation has no cap on co-location, but Xcel wants to set a cap … if I put 100 gardens on 1 property or 100 properties, it makes no difference to anybody but Xcel. By putting a cap on it, that makes it harder for developers.” We have previously reported on the fight between Xcel and community solar.

MarketWatch reports that this is a pilot program for SolarCity. Lyndon Rive told MarketWatch, “I really do hope that the model can scale…. We got a lot of renters interested in solar but they can’t go solar because their landlord is not interested.”

SolarCity’s plans include developing solar gardens in other states with policies that encourage them, according to the Minnesota Star Tribune. They quote Rive: “Our hope is that this [Minnesota’s program] is an example to follow and you can scale it from … 600,000 renters to eventually 100 million renters across the country.”