The cleanest and cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use. Before making a large or long-term investment in renewable power, make sure you’ve taken advantage of all of the cost-effective energy efficiency in your home. A good place to start is scheduling a home energy audit for personalized information to make your home more energy efficient.
Green power programs
Many utilities offer green power programs. For example, Xcel Energy customers can join its Windsource program and Minnesota Power customers can join WindSense to get all or a portion of their power from wind. Xcel Energy is also now offering a program to get power from a blend of wind and solar in their Renewable*Connect program.
Contact your utility to find out if they offer something similar. (Find your utility’s contact information.)
“Community solar” is taking off in Minnesota — especially in Xcel Energy territory, thanks to recent legislation. Community solar gardens are owned by churches or community centers, private companies, or electric utilities. Individuals or businesses can then buy shares or subscriptions in community solar gardens. Community solar is an option for renters, people whose properties are shaded or can’t support solar panels, or others who can’t or prefer not to install their own solar panels.
Community solar programs vary widely and many require you to sign a multi-year contract, so it’s important to make sure you understand the fine print. Even if you participate in a community solar garden, that does not guarantee you will actually receive renewable power. That’s because community solar gardens often sell “Renewable Energy Certificates” (RECs) separately. RECs are used to track the renewable attributes of electricity. RECs can be bought and sold so that people, companies, and utilities can offset their fossil fuel power usage. Many community solar gardens sell the RECs that they produce in order to offer a better price to their subscribers. However, a subscription to a community solar garden that sells its RECs might not actually add more solar power to the electric grid.
For more on community solar, check out our community solar guide.
Rooftop solar and small wind
Residents may operate their own power generation equipment to serve their electricity needs. The electric utility will connect your equipment to the power lines and compensate you for the power produced.
In recent decades, some farmers have installed small wind turbines on their property. Now, more people are installing solar panels. As rooftop solar grows in popularity, some utilities are experienced in connecting installations to the power grid, while others are still new to the process. It’s important to check with your local government about potential regulations regarding the location of energy generation.