Published September 19, 2017
Solar power is heating up in Minnesota. While many people think of Minnesota as a cold and snowy state, Minnesota ranks 16th in the nation for solar energy output. Increased renewable energy developments are giving Minnesota consumers new efficient and cost-effective energy options. This blog seeks to help the average residential consumer navigate the world of solar and provide some resources to help achieve the goals they seek with renewable energy, from cost savings to energy independence.
Step 1: Make your home as energy efficient as possible
Before moving forward on solar options, the first step should always be investing in home energy efficiency measures. This is a key step to reducing energy usage and saving as much money as possible. This step allows solar to be effective and maximize the return on your investment. After the energy efficiency measures are in place, the next step is considering the many different solar options and choosing the best option for your lifestyle.
Step 2: Evaluate Solar options
There are three primary solar options available to Minnesota consumers:
- Renewable energy program subscription
- Community Solar Garden subscription
- Installing solar on personal property
Subscribe to a renewable energy program
Renewable energy programs are offered by utilities and allow you to purchase electricity from renewable sources. This renewable energy generation is above and beyond what state law mandates utilities to provide. The programs generally add a small premium to your bill, at least for now, with the cost differing by each utility. But you will also receive a credit on your bill for the avoided fuel cost from power plant generation. Under Xcel Energy’s Renewable*Connect program, consumers can source 100 percent of their electricity from renewable sources for about $5-7 extra per month.
The time commitment under these programs can vary from a month-to-month contract to multiple years. This can be a good option for consumers who do not want to make the significant investment in rooftop solar. There are also many third-party organizations separate from your utility that offer similar programs to source your energy from renewable sources.
Subscribe to a community solar garden
A community solar garden uses the concept of a community garden. In a community garden, you would rent a plot of land in a larger garden and get to keep all the produce you grow. In a community solar garden, you purchase or lease a share of a solar development. You then benefit from the amount of solar your share generates.
Community solar can be a good option for customers who would like to install solar but do not have an ideal location on their property to make a solar installation cost-effective. Community solar gardens allow consumers to sign a contract to source their electricity from a specific solar development. The contract may be with a private solar developer, in the case of Xcel Energy, or directly with the utility, as many cooperative utilities offer community solar.
Every community solar contract is different. Consumers generally still pay their utility for electric service. However, they receive a credit on their bills to offset their energy generation. The length and rates set in the contract will vary by developer and utility. It is important to research the different community solar developments that are available in your area if this is a route you are interested in taking. The Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) has an excellent guide for people considering a community solar subscription.
Install solar on your own property
For those looking to produce their own solar power, many resources exist to assist with your research. There are many factors that determine whether solar will work on your property including the size, angle, and direction of your roof as well as the amount of shade your roof receives.
As stated above, the first step to maximizing the potential of your solar installation will always be investing in energy efficiency measures in your home or business. Once you have completed this step, the solar energy guide from CERTs is a great, step-by-step resource to get started with a solar installation. Check with contractors and receive at least two bids for your solar system. Your contractors can also assist with financing options, and the DSIRE website offers a complete list of solar financing options in each state.
Step 3: Decide the best option
With all the options for solar energy out there, it can be difficult determining which would be best for you. Each option depends on your personal goals and resources. Make sure to thoroughly research each option before moving forward. It is also important to be sure of your commitment level as some options have long-term obligations. Deciding on a solar option that is right for you and your household is exciting and can have many personal and societal benefits. If any questions come up, feel free to reach out to CUB for more information.
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