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Minnesota’s First Community Solar Project is Minnesota-Made

| Written by John Farrell | 13 Comments | Updated on Sep 7, 2012 The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at

Update 12/20/12: This project includes battery storage.

Just last month, the Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association, serving communities just north and west of the Twin Cities metropolitan area, announced Minnesota’s first community solar project.  The 40 kW solar array will be located at the cooperative’s headquarters, with members allowed to purchase individual panels in the project for $869.   In exchange, members will receive a credit on their bill equal to the electricity production of their portion of the 40 kW array.

Participation in the community solar project lowers the payback period for solar, as compared to individual ownership, by 7-12 years.

The project is organized by the Clean Energy Collective, a Colorado-based firm that has already built two community solar projects with rural electric cooperatives in that state and with plans to build several more.  Their projects are noteworthy for being the only consistently replicable community solar model, as evidenced by their success.  (for more on community solar projects, see our 2010 report).

Partnership is the key to CEC’s success, with the company providing cooperatives with “RemoteMeter” software allowing them to handle the accounting part of the community solar project (and a smartphone app to allow participants to track production).  They also handle all of the project financing and development, with utilities having merely to market the program to their members and help oversee the project interconnection to their electric grid.

The community solar project provides a good deal for members, for three reasons.  Most Minnesotans lack an appropriate, sunny space for a solar array (75% of people rent or have a roof that is unsuitable for solar).  With Wright-Hennepin’s community solar array, participants can own a share of a local, centralized system that will be maintained by the cooperative, and still get their share of the electricity as though it were on their own rooftop.

The Clean Energy Collective has also negotiated a good rate for solar electricity, with participants receiving a credit of 12¢ per kWh generated by their panels, in comparison to the cooperative’s average residential retail rate of 9.3¢ per kWh.

The $4.83 per Watt cost for panels is also better than it looks, because the Wright-Hennepin project will use equipment from Minnesota’s tenKsolar.  Using an innovative, low-cost reflector, the tenKsolar array boosts output by 25% over a traditional fixed tilt solar array, with an estimated output of around 291 kWh per year from each 180 W panel compared to 233 kWh from a traditional solar module.

Investments in the Wright-Hennepin community solar project pay back in 20 years, according to the Clean Energy Collective (our own calculation was 25 years).  Either way, it compares favorably to an individually-owned solar project, which would have a payback of 32 years or more.  And the Clean Energy Collective warrants the project for 50 years, over which period a participant will have lifetime net savings of nearly $20,000.

We’re glad to see community solar and the Clean Energy Collective come to Minnesota!

Update 11/15/12: Tim Gulden of Winona Renewable Energy (in Minnesota) says,” It looks like someone is making a lot of money and it’s not the coop person buying the PV module/s!”   He notes that the gross cost of a 40 kW rooftop system in southern Minnesota is between $3.11 and $3.79 per Watt before incentives, perhaps a third of the cost of Wright-Hennepin’s system.  To be fair, Tim’s price quote does not include the use of Minnesota modules, or factor in the efficiency gains with tenKsolar’s technology.


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About John Farrell

John Farrell directs the Energy Democracy initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and he develops tools that allow communities to take charge of their energy future, and pursue the maximum economic benefits of the transition to 100% renewable power. More

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  • That’s a very interesting development, and I wish them the best of luck. Will the array have online monitoring available? If I had “shares” in it, I’d want to be able to see what it’s doing on a daily/monthly/weekly basis. I do ask partly because I’d like to see whether the 25% reflector gain claim is substantiated; I’m not yet aware of any TenKSolar installs w/ public monitoring.

  • Tim


    correction – here is the best link to the image.

  • Thanks for this article. I am impressed by how the project seems to be truly self-contained, requiring minimal involvement of the utility (although overseeing interconnection may not be such a small task). Has the cooperative faced any challenges with interconnection?

  • Tim, thanks. Found as well.

    Seems like maybe one of your comments got lost. Are there any systems out there with public monitoring on the web?

  • Hi Eric: Clean Energy Collective does have the energy production of its community solar arrays posted on our website. See the bottom right of our main web page:

  • Thanks for that link; I think it’s important to publish this stuff so that people can see it’s working.

  • Wow…why the high cost of this installation? In our area of MN a 40kW roof mounted turn key PV system’s gross turn-key cost spans between $3.112/Watt and $3.79/watt before any incentives. Also this price includes free module by module monitoring over the internet via computers and smart phones, error/defect detection and an ongoing comparison of actual energy produced to the estimated amount that it was designed to generate. I applaud installing community solar but the end customer deserves a better return on their investment than 20 or 25 years. I would think the company that installed it could have provided a turn-key solution for less as they have the economies of scale. Also, MN has a $5/watt rebate for made-in-MN modules (which these modules qualify for) so the gross cost looks to be $4.83+$5.00=$9.83/watt? You could install 2.5 to 3 – 40kW systems for the same price! Are they also taking 30% Federal Credits on the 9.83/watt as this credit is taken on the gross installed costs? It looks like someone is making a lot of money and it’s not the coop person buying the PV module/s!

  • Tim Gulden

    On the heals of the latest negative solar publicity…why would you not include the vital battery storage information initially which would keep yourself from being scrutinized? I found out at a non-profit solar meeting last night that this system indeed had battery storage and was installed turn-key for about $4.60/watt. That is actually a good price. I do see that this article was updated with these additional details after my post. Again, the details are very import and should always be communicated. Congratulations on a successful project.

    • In my defense, I didn’t know the project had battery storage when I first wrote about it.

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