From the health insurance giant Health Partners to rural farming communities to the corner grocery store, member-driven cooperative businesses thrive in Minnesota. In fact, the state has well over 1,000 co-ops that grew out of the model’s agricultural roots and now span 16 different industrial sectors.
The energy sector is no exception, as rural electric cooperatives and community wind projects are prevalent throughout the state. Now, one organization is applying this model to solar generation.
Started in 2006 by a group of Macalester College students in Saint Paul, Cooperative Energy Futures (CEF) initially focused on improving energy efficiency in campus buildings. The organization later expanded that effort to Saint Paul and south Minneapolis neighborhoods, ranging from education on the low-cost, high-impact nature of efficiency improvements, to coordinating bulk (or group) purchases of programs, equipment and services to lower costs.
Now CEF is expanding its efforts to solar energy. Through the Grow Solar effort, Minneapolis residents and businesses can band together to bulk buy and install solar panels. Interested parties get low-cost site assessments from the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society (MRES), reduced cost on-site consultation throughout the project from Applied Energy Innovations (an experienced, certified and licensed renewable energy and efficiency contractor), and reduced shipping costs on the panels through higher quantity orders.
The project moves forward once 80 kW of installed capacity is signed up, although people and businesses can continue to enroll to achieve more savings. That’s about 20-25 residential rooftop solar arrays, not including any larger business rooftops.
Now is definitely the time to buy solar in Minnesota. The Department of Commerce recently announced that Xcel Energy (the sole electric utility in Minneapolis) will continue its Solar*Rewards program through 2015, providing a $1.50/Watt rebate on installed solar systems. Panels made in Minnesota receive an additional $5/Watt rebate, and solar owners who pay federal taxes get a 30% investment tax credit through a program that runs till the end of 2016.
Although some of these incentives are paid out over several years rather than distributed at the outset of the project, CEF claims that capturing all of these discounts and buying bulk through the cooperative model can reduce the cost of a 3.84 kW Minnesota-made solar array from $38,400 to $2,694.
If you are interested in participating in a cooperative solar venture, contact Cooperative Energy Futures to sign up. If you have further questions, CEF will be hosting workshops around Minneapolis in the coming months at the locations below.
- Wednesday, October 17 – 6 to 8pm – Midtown Global Market at Lake Street & 10th Avenue
- Saturday, November 17 – 10am to 5pm – Green Gifts Fair at Midtown Global Market
- Tuesday, December 4 – 6 to 8pm – Seward Food Co-op at Franklin and Riverside Avenues