Conservation Minnesota

Community Solar is Heating Up in Scott County

Solar power and community solar gardens are a great way to decrease your monthly electric bill and decrease the amount of pollution emitted through traditional energy generation from coal and gas. Currently in Minnesota, regulators have given the green light to build the Aurora Solar Project on 21 sites throughout Minnesota that will supply electricity straight into the grid relieving stress from traditional power plants during peak hours of use. The price of solar has been steadily dropping since the 1970’s and has decreased by 78 percent. These trends are telling us that solar is alive and viable in Minnesota.

Some things I often hear as a Community Coordinator with Conservation Minnesota are, “Solar is not viable in Minnesota” or “Snow and clouds make solar not an option for Minnesotans”. Although, these seem to be valid arguments to some, they simply are not true. I’ve been speaking and meeting with an variety of experts and they all continue to tell me the same thing – solar IS viable in Minnesota and we have one of the best locations for solar electric generation in the country.

Let me explain, some folks are under the impression that solar will only work in deserts out west where they don’t have many clouds or much rain. It may seem that way but you are forgetting one thing, dust. One of the major issues facing solar in the southwest is dust. It can build-up on solar panels quickly and is very good at limiting the efficiency of a panel. One great thing about solar in Minnesota is that we do get rain and snow which washes our solar panels off, keeping them operating at peak efficiency through most of our sunny days.

What about snow you say? Well, when we get three feet of snow, you may have to brush off your panels. That is just a harsh reality of living in Minnesota. Other than major snow events, photovoltaic solar panels are great at melting snow quickly. They are often one of the first surfaces to melt and will melt snow even in freezing conditions on sunny days due to its excellent ability to absorb solar rays.

For folks who are not able to have solar or don’t want to install solar panels on their roof, there is still an option for you. You don’t have to invest in rooftop solar to be part of the fun. Community solar gardens are a great way to invest in solar, decrease your monthly electric bill, and help to decrease emissions from coal power plants. Community solar gardens are made up of an array of solar panels that residents and businesses can purchase subscriptions to. Currently, you can subscribe to enough solar to cover up to 120% of your annual electricity usage. I’ve read that the average Minnesota homes use roughly 800 kWh a month of electricity and a solar subscription of 4 kW could provide nearly half of your electricity usage. Each subscriber’s utility bill is credited with the electricity created by your share of the solar garden.

Recently, I was checking out the Scott County Government website when I stumbled upon a public comment forum that I was previously not aware of. What does Scott County want comments on? Community Solar Gardens! The county is asking, “Should Scott County allow community solar gardens on private rural properties as a permitted land use? If yes, what types of restrictions, if any, do you support to lessen impact to neighboring landowners and the community at large?”

So far, this community forum has been live for nearly two months and there are only 23 comments. We need to change that. We need to make sure that we let Scott County understand that community solar is a smart and efficient way of helping to curb pollution and bloated out-of-state energy spending. I’m asking you today to make your opinion known and have your voice heard. Would you please take a moment to comment? Currently 70% of respondents have come out in support of solar – but remember, only 23 comments have been made. Local leaders and decision makers need to hear from more residents.

Here is the link to the live comment period on the Scott County website.

About Avery Hildebrand

Avery Hildebrand
Born in Minnesota, Hildebrand earned his degree in Environmental Science and Management from the University of Wisconsin – River Falls. He has an extensive background in canvassing and organizing. An avid fisherman, who once worked as an aquatic invasive species watercraft inspector, his perfect day in Minnesota includes good friends and fishing, which pairs nicely with his favorite place in the state, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
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