An exciting and innovative program will bolster solar energy use in a Twin Cities area community, showing how traditional energy suppliers can form cooperative ventures with folks who want to switch over to clean-green energy.
The project is being called “Minnesota’s first community solar project.” Here’s how it works:
The Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electrical Association is planning to build a 40-kilowatt solar array that will be located at the company’s headquarters. Rate payers can purchase a solar panel in the array for $869. In exchange, member will get a reduction in their electric bills equal to the total energy production of the solar array.
One of the advantages of this kind of arrangement is that it helps alleviate a common drawback to “going solar” – the cost of the equipment.
While the cost of solar panels and supportive equipment has been going steadily down, the length of time a solar panel takes to pay for itself is still seen as prohibitive by many folks -- people who otherwise like the idea of generating solar energy for their own homes.
For example, by some estimates, an $800 or $900 solar panel system today may take up to 30 years to pay for itself. Under the Wright-Hennepin “shared solar array” plan, that would be reduced to about 20 years.
But participants would also see an immediate reduction in their energy bills – of about 12 cents per kilowatt hour. In addition to saving cash, those who buy into the solar program can have the satisfaction that they are doing their part to reduce the climate-changing usage of dirty energy, such as coal and natural gas, the latter increasingly obtained by fracking.
Important note: How long it takes for solar equipment to pay for itself is somewhat complex and controversial. It should be acknowledged that many in the solar industry might balk at the idea of solar panels needing 20 to 30 years to payback their costs.
This SOURCE, for example, argues that a $15,000 to $30,000 solar system for an individual home would take just three to 10 years to pay off.
With solar-powered systems, there is much variation in the formula based on many factors, such as where you live, the amount of sun you receive per day, the quality of your solar panels, your usage, and more.
Remember that you can also rent solar equipment – or take the DIY route – Do It Yourself. Doing it DIY can save considerable money, which many already have done successfully.
In the case of the Wright-Hennepin project, some have calculated that the payback of the community solar array would be more like 25 years: SOURCE
And for the truly suspicious, well, some might question the ultimate motive of a traditional utility company opting to own a “community solar array."
Many alternative energy advocates say that traditional energy companies are deathly afraid of solar because every individual can potentially create his or her own system – and get off the grid entirely. That means every solarized home is potentially a lost customer for those who control the power system.
Of course, that may or may not be unwarranted negative thinking. The fact that a local utility company is making an investment in clean solar energy can only be seen as a positive step forward.
And another important point to keep in mind: Not every home or dwelling can install a solar panel. They may not have the best sky exposure, and improper roof – or perhaps live in an apartment, for example. Thus, the Wright-Hennepin solar program opens up “going solar” to just about anyone who wants to support clean solar energy.
The Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electrical Association is working in cooperation with The Clean Energy Collective, a Colorado-based firm, on this project.
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