SunShare unveils community solar program for Minnesota

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U.S. community solar developer SunShare has announced this week one of its most ambitious residential solar programs to date – a goal to enroll 5,000 households in Minnesota on to its solar scheme by the end of the year.

The residential program will invite Minnesota citizens served by Xcel Energy to buy solar power from a community solar garden developed by SunShare. A typical household need purchase the energy produced from just 20 panels in order to cover their entire electricity bill, calculates SunShare, with any excess energy produced carried over to future bills.

All participants that sign up to the community scheme remain customers of Xcel Energy and are billed in exactly the same way, but instead of paying for fossil fuels are instead paying for clean solar energy.

"Everybody should have the chance to choose solar power, even if they rent, own a condo, can’t afford high upfront costs of solar, or simply have a roof that isn’t sustainable for solar panels," said David Amster-Olszewski, SunShare’s founder and CEO. "Our goal is to help any citizen in the state of Minnesota choose solar energy located in their community for less than their current electric bill."

A pilot SunShare campaign rolled out earlier in the year attracted a great deal of interest from Minnesotans keen on opting for solar. Local outreach leader Sarah Casper, who now works for SunShare, put it simply: "If you could just choose solar energy, pay nothing more for it, and fix in a known power price for the future, why wouldn’t you?"

Such schemes are fast gaining traction in the U.S., with SunShare itself growing at an encouraging rate. In Minnesota alone, the program is doubling its staffing numbers this year to meet demand, and recently signed a contract with the City of Cologne in Carver County to transform it into a 100% solar-powered community.

The 1,500 population city will save $1.1 million over the next 25 years and is the first local government in Minnesota to entirely offset its energy use with solar power.

Another SunShare community garden is planned for the city of Starbuck, thanks to a collaboration between SunShare and the city mayor, Gary Swenson.

"Today, Starbuck and SunShare are working together to create clean, renewable, local energy right in our community," Swenson said.

"Community solar is a great way for communities to foster economic growth, realize cost savings and participate in safe, clean, renewable energy."

SunShare has already enjoyed solar success in Colorado, where the scheme has an 11 MW PV footprint.

U.S. solar leasing company SolarCity also today announced a community solar energy program in Minnesota, revealing plans to build 100 MW worth of community gardens across the state.