The nation’s first ever attempt to have municipal governments collectively buy power from community solar gardens was a modest success, according to a new report.
While municipalities in other parts of the country have come together to buy rooftop solar, none had ever tried it to capture cost savings in the nascent community solar marketplace, said Trevor Drake, project manager at the Great Plains Institute.
Minnesota has one of the country’s largest and best developed community solar markets, with more than 100 MW expected to go live this year. The cities involved in the “Governmental Solar Garden Subscriber Collaborative” are expected to contract for about 33 MW, according to Drake.
The program offered a gateway for communities looking to buy community solar but with few staff members who really understand the community solar industry.
While the amount of power purchased through the program is significant — it’s double the state’s solar capacity prior to 2016 — the figure was did not quite exceed expectations for a variety of reasons, said Drake.
It was far less than the 180 MW the collaborative’s 31 government-related entities had originally suggested they would be willing to purchase when the effort began in 2015. The collaborative received bids to offer 70 MW before members contracted for about half that.
On the other hand, every community which signed a 25-year contract with a community solar developer is going to save money over the long run, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars in in some cases more than $1 million.
“All opportunities provided a net positive in savings over the term of the contract,” he said, ranging on the higher end from $352,000 to nearly $1.5 million.
A ‘really rewarding’ experience
The feedback has been positive. The collaborative “was really hard and really rewarding,” said Jason Willett, finance director for the council’s environmental services. “I’ve been called by people around the country asking about competitive multi government procurement for community solar gardens and asking how we did it.”
Willett and the Metropolitan Council, a regional policy and planning organization, negotiated with solar developers on behalf of the group. The agency had a great deal of experience with procuring solar energy, including placing panels next to wastewater plants.