Collaboration is at the heart of a solar garden initiative that is getting a lot of attention for “harnessing the power of partnerships.”
The Metropolitan Council, along with Hennepin and Ramsey counties, the City of Minneapolis and Metro CERTs, are recipients of the Environmental Initiative’s “Community Action” award. Their partnership brought together local governments under a single competitive procurement process that allowed them to subscribe to solar gardens and offset energy use at public facilities.
The initiative, called the “Governmental Solar Garden Subscriber Collaborative,” involved a group of 31 government partners. The group jointly solicited competitive proposals from solar vendors who offered solar participation via subscription, rather than local governments installing solar panels on their own property.
How the solar garden program and the collaborative work
Under the Minnesota solar garden program, developers site, design, own, and operate solar installations. Households, businesses, institutions and governments can subscribe to a portion of the power produced.
The power generated from the solar gardens flows to an electric utility; the subscriber receives a credit on its electric bill from the utility, based on the energy generated and the size of the subscription.
The collaborative offered local governments the chance to participate in solar gardens without having to do all the legwork themselves.
“The solar collaborative took the costs of financing, the technology, and installation, as well as the procurement process, off the hands of local officials,” said project manager Jason Willett. “All they had to do is subscribe, so that was a big incentive for local governments to participate.
“The result is financial savings for our tax and ratepayers, reduced air emissions from fossil fuels, and advancements in solar production in MInnesota,” said Willett. “It’s just a big win all the way around.”
Money saved is money earned
Together, the cities and counties contracted for a total of 33 megawatts. Annually, 33 megawatts can offset the energy used in 6,000 homes, saving residential customers collectively about $7 million, or commercial customers about $4 million. In addition, the Council and some local governments received substantial follow-up offers from vendors for additional solar subscriptions that added significantly to the savings and solar advancement, Willett said.
Environmental Initiative, formerly Minnesota Environment Initiative, is a nonprofit organization that builds "partnerships to develop collaborative solutions to Minnesota’s environmental problems."
The Council's solar garden effort and projects, which includes solar panels at the Blue Lake and Empire Plants, was featured in the Council news, "New solar gardens at wastewater treatment plant boost state's solar power" (December 2016).
More about Environmental Initiative's work and awards.