NRG Energy discusses demand for community solar in Minnesota

NRG Energy, Inc has broken ground on its first five community solar projects in Minnesota and reached agreements to subscribe several national business customers to its solar farms in the state.

NRG Solar“Across Minnesota we are hearing the same strong message from residents and businesses alike: they want to be powered by affordable, renewable energy,” said Drew Warshaw, Vice President, Community Solar, NRG. “Community solar gives them that opportunity – a simple, cost-effective path for residents and businesses to go solar without having to put panels on their roofs.”

NRG’s commitment to developing community solar in Minnesota (the state where NRG began operations in 1989) is moving forward with 25-year Solar Subscription Agreements (SSAs) signed by more than 1,000 residents and several large businesses in the state including:

  • U.S. Bank – the 5th largest commercial bank in the United States, with six sites subscribed, including the iconic U.S. Bank Plaza in Minneapolis;
  • Land O’Lakes – a national member-owned agricultural cooperative based in the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburb of Arden Hills, with its corporate headquarters subscribing;
  • Macy’s – one of the nation’s premier retailers, with three of its retail sites subscribing;
  • Ecolab – the global leader in water, hygiene and energy technologies and services headquartered in St. Paul, with several corporate facilities subscribing.

“We seek out partnerships that positively impact the environment and participating in this unique community solar garden initiative is a great example of that,” said Reba Dominski, senior vice president, Corporate Social Responsibility at U.S. Bank. “We are proud to be a subscriber along with Land O’Lakes, Macy’s, Ecolab and others, and congratulate NRG for its leadership and investment in this important work. We are excited to see the positive impact the gardens will have on our communities.”

NRG’s renewables business has broken ground on five projects in Minnesota that will provide clean energy:

  • Forest Lake Project in Washington County – 6.7 MW dc (5 MW ac);
  • Farmington Project in Dakota County – 6.1 MW dc (5 MW ac);
  • Pine Island Project in Goodhue County – 3.5 MW dc (2.9 MW ac);
  • Highway 14 Project in Olmstead County – 6.7 MW dc (5 MW ac);
  • Dodge Project in Dodge County – 6.1 MW dc (5 MW ac).

All of the projects are slated for completion by early 2017. The five solar farms will serve both businesses and residential customers.

How it works

Business and residential customers in Minnesota subscribe to an NRG community solar farm by signing a 25-year SSA. Electricity generated at the solar farm goes to the local utility’s grid. Customers then receive a bill credit from their utility — in this case, Xcel Energy, Inc. — for their subscribed share of the electricity produced by the community solar farm.

“We’d like to thank Xcel Energy, Governor Dayton and the State Legislature for supporting this innovative community solar program,” added NRG’s Drew Warshaw. “Their forward-thinking leadership – along with that of our flagship customers in four Minnesota counties – is paving the way for other states to follow suit.”

Further reading: Community Solar Legal Primer: From project structure to consumer protection 

— Solar Builder magazine

Nebraska’s largest PV plant installs TDP Turnkey Trackers from Solar FlexRack


Solar FlexRack TDP Trackers Installed In Holdrege 5MW Solar Project Near Lincoln Nebraska

The largest solar power generation plant in Nebraska just installed Solar FlexRack‘s TDP Turnkey Trackers Solution. The tracking solution is an optimized technology bundled with a full suite of solar project services and support for commercial and utility-scale solar installations. The milestone 5 MW project, located just outside of Lincoln, Neb., was built and financed by Enerparc Inc., and installed by NESCO. Enerparc Inc. is a privately-held corporation specializing in the development, financing, construction and operation of PV power plants, building over 1.6 GW of capacity.

Delivering one of the industry’s lowest total cost solar project solutions, the TDP Turnkey Trackers put a team of experts at the service of project developers, EPCs and installers. Florent Abadie, CEO of Enerparc Inc. said, “We selected Solar FlexRack TDP Trackers based on our previous successful experience with Solar FlexRack, and especially because of the great turnkey services packaged with the product ensuring a smooth installation. Once again, we were not disappointed.”

RELATED: On the Scene: Redefining ‘in-house’ with Solar FlexRack 

“Enerparc is conscious of the important balance between costs and quality. They pay meticulous attention to the work they do and build quality solar projects that investors can bank on,” said Steve Daniel, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Solar FlexRack.

During construction, Enerparc reported that almost 40 percent of the construction crew was hired locally. The project was commissioned on schedule and is operational. It is offsetting 5,300 tons of CO2 annually and is generating enough solar electricity to power 900 homes.

— Solar Builder magazine

Rooftop mounting in Minnesota: Local installer discusses the switch to E Mount AIR


When solar enthusiast Jeff Schocka Conger started his own company in La Crosse, Wis., a sluggish market forced him to close up shop less than a year later. But when one door closes, another opens.  “The political climate means there’s not much incentive for solar in Wisconsin,” he explained. “The renewable energy market is growing twice as fast in Minnesota, so I figured it was time for a change.”

In early April 2016, Jeff began working as a project manager at Aquilla Solar in Wabasha, Minn., just over an hour north of La Crosse. “Aquilla is the only PV installer in eastern Minnesota, so solar is in high demand,” he explained. “The region also has lots of trees blocking the sun, so it takes more PV panels to generate the same amount of power resulting in larger installations.”

Aquilla Solar Corporation provides full-service installation of PV solar systems for customers in southeastern Minnesota. While a majority of Aquilla’s projects are for residential customers, they also install PV systems for commercial and agricultural clients and for non-profit organizations.

Mounting decision

Roof Tech E Mount Air

In mid-May 2016, Jeff met Mike Dunlap, Midwest Sales Manager for Roof Tech, at the Midwest Solar Expo in St. Paul, Minn. After learning about Roof Tech E Mount AIR, Jeff decided to try it for the first time to install an 8.9-kW PV system at his mother-in-law’s home in La Crosse. Jeff noted that Mike was instrumental in guiding him and his crew through that first project. After that first job, Jeff and Mike worked with Aquilla’s local supplier to come up with a pricing plan for future projects.

Jeff emphasized that RT Butyl was a key factor in choosing E Mount AIR for Aquilla’s projects. “Here in Minnesota, temperatures easily top 100 degrees in summer and can plunge to minus 35 in winter,” he said. “So it’s critical that any mounting system can withstand those extreme fluctuations.”

Jeff also noted that winter snowfall typically adds a load of 20 to 30 lbs. per square foot to rooftops, so it’s important to use lightweight components that have a lower point load like E Mount AIR whenever possible. “With railed mounting systems, you have to penetrate the roof which can cause the shingles to deteriorate much faster over time,” he said. “With E Mount AIR, the RT Butyl creates a watertight seal that will last for the life of the roof.”

Today, E Mount AIR continues to be the mounting solution of choice for Aquilla. “By late August we had installed five projects using E Mount AIR, and we’ll have eight more installed by the end of September,” said Jeff. “We also have more than 100 kW of new installations coming up by the end of 2016, including some municipal projects. We plan to use E Mount AIR on most of them. It’s so much easier and faster to install than railed systems, and our customers love the way it looks. Do three jobs with Roof Tech, and you’ll change your mind on the first job. The transition from rails to E Mount AIR is really smooth. You just have to give it one try to appreciate the difference.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Consumers Energy finishes second solar power plant at a Michigan university

Grand Valley State

The Solar Gardens at Grand Valley State

Consumers Energy has started operations at its second solar power plant, transforming 8.5 acres at Western Michigan University into a new source of renewable energy for Michigan.

“We are pleased to work with Western Michigan University and the public to provide energy from new, renewable sources right here in our state,” said Dan Malone, Consumers Energy’s senior vice president of energy resources. “This solar power plant represents our commitment to powering our state reliably and sustainably, using our state’s own natural resources.”

Consumers Energy has made significant changes to how it generates energy, closing seven coal-fired power plants this year and developing renewable energy sources in Michigan. The 1-MW solar power plant on Western Michigan University property is the energy provider’s second large-scale solar project in Michigan, joining a 3-MW solar power plant that opened at Grand Valley State University in April.

RELATED: Community Solar Legal Primer: From project structure to consumer protection 

“Western Michigan University has a longtime commitment to sustainability and helping our state use its resources wisely,” said WMU President John M. Dunn. “This new facility will allow us to contribute immediately to the production of sustainable energy for Michigan and serve in the long term as an example for how partnership and innovation can be used to meet the important interests of our community.”

The two solar power plants are part of Consumers Energy’s Solar Gardens program, in which customers support the development of new renewable energy in Michigan and reduce their carbon footprint.
Participants who subscribe to Solar Gardens will receive a credit on monthly bills based on electricity that’s generated at Solar Gardens locations.

Consumers Energy, Michigan’s largest utility, is the principal subsidiary of CMS Energy (NYSE: CMS), providing natural gas and electricity to 6.7 million of the state’s 10 million residents in all 68 Lower Peninsula counties.

— Solar Builder magazine

Middle Tennessee Electric building its first community solar project

Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation is a member-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperative providing electricity to more than 210,000 residential and business members, which makes it the perfect candidate for community solar. Last week, the co-op broke ground on its first community solar project located in College Grove, Tenn. Construction on the 1-MW solar array will begin this month, and is projected to be complete by the end of October.

radiance solar“We are excited about the possibilities this cooperative solar project brings to our membership,” said MTEMC President Chris Jones. “We are working to be the trusted resource in emerging energy technology, including renewables, energy storage and energy efficiency, for our members.”

The cooperative contracted with Radiance Solar, based in Atlanta, Ga., to construct the array.

RELATED: Community Solar Legal Primer: From project structure to consumer protection 

“Radiance is very excited to be working with MTEMC in their first cooperative solar array. The 1-MW array is an excellent demonstration of Middle Tennessee EMC’s commitment to innovation and providing clean, renewable energy for its members. Radiance is working with leading utilities across the southeast to deploy safe, cost effective, solar energy” said James Marlow, Radiance CEO.

As construction takes place in the coming weeks, the cooperative will finalize the program specific pieces of the project to offer members interested in participating.

“Over the last year, we have led the valley in renewable energy efforts,” said Jones. “This project is one more way we are responding to the needs and desires of our membership when it comes to renewable energy.”

Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Radiance Solar is a leading solar contractor, specializing in the design, installation and maintenance of solar energy systems. Radiance has constructed over 50 MW of power in the Southeast on over 200 sites and maintains over 60 MW, including Georgia’s largest solar facility.

— Solar Builder magazine