There has been a lot of news recently about community solar in Minnesota, particularly Xcel Energy’s program. And for good reason: it is the largest community solar program nationally. It has helped connect more than 300 MW of solar to the electric grid. That’s enough solar energy to power more than 50,000 Minnesota homes.
Community solar can provide greater access to solar energy. If you don’t have a good roof for solar, due to shading or other concerns, or if you are a renter, you can still be a supporter of solar in Minnesota by subscribing to a community solar array. Many programs offer savings on your monthly utility bill, and you are often able to take the subscription with you if you move, or you can transfer it to another person.
However, community solar is not the right program for everyone.
First, you need to be a customer of Xcel Energy, or one of the other 26 utilities providing a community solar option. For example, my municipal utility, the City of Chaska, does not have a community solar option, so I cannot be a subscriber.
Second, a lot of these community solar arrays, or “gardens,” are already full. Several offer waitlists, but it may be a long time for space to open up. More community solar gardens will be built this year, but even many of those are already fully subscribed. Not all the developers offer subscriptions for residential customers either, so the options are fewer than for commercial or industrial customers.
Lastly, you don’t always maximize your return with community solar. Some plans will give you predictable savings, but some will fluctuate. Some programs charge a premium for the solar, too. It is important to be sure you understand the bill credit rate you will receive and the ways that rate may change over time. For example, some plans start at a low payment rate and increase over time. If the bill credit rate you get from the subscription doesn’t increase at the same rate, you could be paying more for your community solar subscription than you would have paid your utility. Rooftop solar is a better way to get the most bang for your buck, as you will own the system and can maximize the benefits.