FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, December 3, 2015
DULUTH, Minn. — Community members and renewable energy advocates submitted over 285 comments and a letter signed by 19 local leaders and organizations Thursday to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The letters call on the PUC to ensure Minnesota Power’s Community Solar Garden (CSG) program is fair and open for everyone in the area wanting to participate.
A community solar garden is a solar electric array with multiple subscribers. Subscribers can purchase a portion of the power produced by the array and receive a credit on their electricity bill. A community supported solar array might be hosted on a school, library, place of worship, or community center. Community solar gardens provide access to solar for renters or home or business owners with roofs not well designed for solar panels.
“Community Solar Gardens put energy distribution in the hands of the people. They were designed with the idea that renewable energy should be available to everyone and that energy can be produced beyond the traditional model where energy is produced, transported, and owned by a monopoly utility,” said Jason Edens, Director of Rural Renewable Energy Alliance.
In 2013 the Minnesota legislature passed a Community Solar Garden policy setting up the rules governing the programs. While Minnesota Power wasn’t required to develop a program, the utility proposed one to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in September.
Minnesota Power’s proposal allows customers to subscribe to a solar project owned by the utility but doesn’t include a path for community developed gardens, despite what’s outlined in the state statute. The proposal would limit the way projects can be developed and allows Minnesota Power to receive all of the financial benefit in the form of Renewable Energy Credits and small scale solar goals.
“Community solar projects should do as originally intended and as the name suggests — they should be a resource held by local communities rather than exist as a limited service offered by utility companies,” said Natalie Cook, organizer with the Sierra Club.
The PUC will make a determination in the coming months on whether Minnesota Power can move forward with the plan it proposed or if the company must make changes.
Reverend Bruce Johnson, with Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Duluth will be waiting to see what is decided — the church built its building in 2008 to be ready for solar. “We see Community Solar as a way to live our values, there are church buildings and other sites in the community that are ready and able to become Community Solar Garden sites, but under the current proposal that is not realistic. The Northland needs Community Solar, not corporate solar.”