Community Solar Power

In this Feb. 26, 2015 photo, solar panels that are part of the Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association’s community gardens are shown in Rockford, Minn. (AP)

A new community solar garden will open soon, giving residents of four area counties the opportunity to save money on their Xcel Energy electric bills.

The project, located on a farm east of Faribault, is one of eight owned by Cooperative Energy Futures, a Twin Cities-based energy co-op. The 1mw solar farm has been mostly complete since June, according to Timothy Denherder-Thomas, Cooperative Energy Futures’s general manager.

Xcel Energy is currently conducting tests on the facility and hopes to have it hooked up to the grid by the end of the year. Xcel subscribers who live in Rice, Dakota, Goodhue and Scott counties can currently buy into the project.

Denherder-Thomas said that Community Energy Partners set its sights on building a Rice County solar garden after numerous area residents expressed interest in solar power. After significant discussions, an area farmer agreed to host the garden on his farm east of Faribault.

Denherder-Thomas touted the co-operative model as an efficient way for cost-conscious and environmentally concerned consumers to get the benefits of solar power without the upfront cost and hassle of putting up one’s own panels.

With just a $25 entrance fee and no credit score required, Denherder-Thomas said the Co-op is fully committed to making sure that it’s affordable for everyone to buy-in. Even though the garden hasn’t opened yet, so many customers have already bought in that it’s already sold at three fourths of operating capacity.

Once a customer buys in, they will get a credit on their Xcel Energy bill. Most of that credit is paid to Cooperative Energy Futures in the form of dues, but most customers still get a net savings. Since Cooperative Energy Futures is a co-op, subscribers also share in the group’s profits.

Alex Madden is with Twin Cities-based nonprofit Community Power, which has worked on solar projects throughout the state. Madden praised Cooperative Energy Futures’s model as innovative and flexible, focused on helping communities thrive rather than maximizing profit.

“Clean energy has the potential to really support Greater Minnesota, and if it’s done in the right way it can build people up,” she said. “We’re really excited about (Cooperative Energy Futures’) model and that’s why we’re involved with it.”

Reach Reporter Andrew Deziel at 507-333-3129 or follow him on Twitter @FDNandrew. © Copyright APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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