Prospect Park plans local solar garden

Prospect Park residents are trying to make the neighborhood’s first community solar garden.

The Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association plans to sell solar power to residents and businesses in a push to become more environmentally friendly and cost-effective.

A solar garden is a solar panel or multiple panels that residents and businesses can buy shares for, providing solar energy at a lower cost than if a resident installed a solar panel on their own.

The Minnesota State Legislature passed a law last year requiring Xcel Energy to develop a community solar garden program, enabling residents to get a bill credit from the company for the electricity they generate. The law also requires solar gardens to generate no more than one megawatt, which could power about 160 homes.

Tamara Johnson, head of PPERRIA’s Master Plan Committee, said she took inspiration from other neighborhoods and is currently forming a task force to get the job done.

“What we need right now is someone with a big roof,” Johnson said.

The association will then need to choose a company to install the panels, talk to experts and start selling shares.

“Once people see how successful it’s been in other neighborhoods, they’ll be open to it,” said Jessica Buchberger, community engagement coordinator for PPERRIA.

Some Prospect Park business owners are already on board.

“If it’s financially feasible, we’ll be all for it,” said Tom Sengupta, owner of Schneider Drug on University Avenue. “I think something like this needs to come from the bottom up, from regular citizens.”

Some citizens have already volunteered their own roofs for the community solar garden, Johnson said. But they quickly discovered there wasn’t enough sunlight for it to be feasible.

This initiative for community solar gardens follows a trend that began in Colorado, and the trend is growing in Minnesota, said Ken Bradley, CEO of Minnesota Community Solar, a solar panel installation and consulting company.

The biggest drivers for enthusiasm about these types of projects are a desire to help reduce pollution and climate change, Bradley said.

Minnesota Community Solar helped install a solar garden in south Minneapolis, where Bradley said subscribers quickly bought all of the shares.

“All you need is a power bill, and you can participate in these programs,” he said.

For this kind of project, he said, it’s important to have willing customers and properly maintained panels.

So far, the project is still in its earliest planning stages, but Johnson is optimistic.

“We might even have multiple,” she said. “It is a garden, after all.”

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