Community solar is coming to Rochester, Austin, and Saint Peter! The plans–all provided by the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (SMMPA) and administered through SOLARCHOICE–will go online in January of 2018, but signups have already begun and these communities that have advocated and waited for their opportunity to participate in renewable energy are excited that the opportunity is finally here.
While quite similar to one another, each is a little different based on contract length. For Austin and Rochester, whose contracts to buy power from SMMPA expire in 2030, the term is only for 6-12 years and each panel starts at around $650. In Saint Peter where the contract with SMMPA doesn’t expire until 2050, solar contract terms are from 5-25 years, but cost per panel remains approximately the same.
One of the other small differences between communities is in the amount of solar each household is allowed to buy. In Saint Peter, the limit is 50% of your average monthly bill calculated over 12 months. In Austin, the limit is 75% of that same 12-month average. But, in Rochester, the limit is 100% of your lowest bill in a 12-month period. All of the programs have options for buy-out or transfer should you move out of the service territory before your contract ends.
Some have criticized the programs because unlike rooftop solar and some other community solar programs, there is little to no chance that the amount of money invested will pay back with interest. Rather, at the end of the contract term, the initial investment will basically have been repaid in savings over that time. And, the subscription locks in a portion of the individual’s energy for a period of time. While this might not seem worth it to those who have the option of installing panels on their own homes, it is an option for those who can’t because of finances, poor sun exposure, structural issues, non-homeownership, etc. Also, these are being viewed as a more visible and exciting alternative to purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), the only other option previously available to those who desired the right to claim cleaner energy as a source of power for their homes.
A lot is going to change in the coming years with respect to renewable energy and the burning of fossil fuels. As those changes occur, it’s likely that power providers like SMMPA will be changing their portfolios to include more wind and solar. Then, hopefully, contracts like the ones many communities hold with SMMPA won’t seem as restrictive. In the meantime, these communities that have advocated so long for more access to clean energy are finally getting their opportunity. I am excited for this step and all of the progress to come!
For more information on your community’s solar program:
Saint Peter: http://www.saintpetermn.gov/sites/default/files/documents/public-works/brochures/Solar%20Final%20Brochure_0.pdf