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Minnesota Community Solar seeks new ways of doing energy business

Minnesota residents are no stranger to energy costs or the vagaries of climate change. Over the past few decades, as temperatures continue to rise and energy costs continue to increase, it has become clear that new ways of producing electricity are imperative if humans are going to slow down the worst effects of climate change. Fortunately the cost of new forms of alternative energy have gone down steadily over the past few years. There is no better place to see this happening than with the cost of solar energy, the cost of which has dropped precipitously in the last decade. Needless to say, this has massive implications for the current energy sphere.

Minnesotans looking to get in on the solar game haven’t had much luck outside of spending tens of thousands of dollars installing roof-top solar panels on their own homes. This changed in 2014, however, with the advent of Minnesota Community Solar, a startup founded by Peter Teigland and Dustin Dennison. The company specializes in roof-top solar gardens in central locations, leasing out “leaves,” or panels, for households. Residents have the choice of off-setting a percentage of their energy bill (through Xcel Energy) or the entire amount if they wish. The first of these roof-top projects will be on top of the Northern Sun building on east Lake Street in Minneapolis.

(Disclosure: Your Examiner and wife have signed up to offset a portion of their energy bill through this community solar garden project. Your Examiner has not been compensated in any way for this article but simply seeks to get the word out about this company.)

In a phone interview with your Examiner, Mr. Teigland said that the genesis of this project came from his previous work in renewable energy. He has worked for Applied Energy Innovations and now has his MBA. Teigland also worked for a time as a researcher for The Daily Climate, an environmental and energy news website. He said this gained him a huge amount of knowledge about the energy sector and made him want to get more involved. Mr. Dennison also served as the president for AEI. Teigland said the two men had a shared interest in solar and decided to found a new company together.

Teigland stated that the goal of Minnesota Community Solar is to “provide access to solar for anyone who has an electric bill.” He spoke of how solar gardens can help “increase capacity” on the grid and said this project will let people participate who normally couldn’t afford solar panels on their own homes (or live in apartment complexes). Teigland said that his was a “triple bottom line” business, which for him means it is “economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable.” He said this project was important because it involves “community stakeholders.”

Asked about how the American energy sector will be able to move from “dirty” fossil fuels to more “clean” types like solar and wind, Teigland said it was going to take many different solutions. He categorized wind as a “mature industry” that has become “price competitive” and said that solar was a younger industry but was growing very fast. Teigland also spoke of using natural gas as a “bridge fuel” and of the continuing progress on battery storage and hydroelectric projects.

Regarding the Northern Sun project, Teigland said that the solar leaves have been “fully reserved for months.” He said that only about 20-25% of homes have a “suitable roof” and therefore MN Community Solar was good at “meeting market demand.” He said these types of roof-top solar projects are a good “hedge against rising energy prices.”

On June 25, MN Community Solar announced a second project in the works, on top of the education wing of Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church in south Minneapolis. According to the press release, Bethel will serve as an “anchor subscriber” and will use much of the energy produced from the solar array. Teigland said that this project has all kinds of support from the community. Bethel Pastor Brenda Froisland has been heading this 300-member church for two years. In a phone interview, she said the first outreach for this project came from Casey MacCullum of MN Community Solar. Froisland said that the church’s “flat roof” was a “specific way to manifest our goal,” a major part of which is “nourishing all God’s creation.” She also stated that this project should help “make energy available” for those in her community who can’t access solar power, describing it as a “no brainer.” She said a future goal for the church would be to add carport solar panels.

As an “anchor subscriber” for the project, Bethel has a 25 year subscription with MN Community Solar and can lease out the remaining leaves to community and church members who have Xcel Energy as their provider. Froisland said the church does receive a significant discount as an anchor subscriber and that 75% of the leaves in this project have been acquired for subscription. Community members can lease as little as one leaf or offset up to 120% of their energy bills.

Froisland said that her church had been “looking for new energy for years.” In a press release coinciding with the announcement of the project, Pastor Froisland was quoted as such: “We are very excited to be partnering with Minnesota Community Solar; they’ve made this process easy. Our congregation has long had a spiritual commitment to environmental stewardship.” Froisland said that four years ago there was not much interest in this type of project, but that has changed in recent years.

Minnesota Community Solar President Dustin Denison was also quoted in the release for this project:

“We’re very grateful to be in partnership with Bethel. The congregation’s enthusiasm for this project demonstrates our community’s appetite for clean, local energy. We’re looking forward to working with many more communities of faith to expand access to solar power, throughout Minnesota.”

If these two projects are successful, and they certainly appear to be at this juncture, be prepared to see more of these roof-top solar gardens appearing all over the Twin Cities. Minnesota Community Solar seems to have tapped into a strong demand for alternative energy in the metro area and seeks to solve both our current energy crisis but also the coming crisis of global climate change.