DILWORTH, Minn. — More than 1,600 students attend four Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton public schools. Those students, as well as the teachers and support staff who educate them, consume lots of electricity.
So school leaders agreed to sign up for a share of the first of five planned community solar gardens in Clay County developed by US Solar. In exchange for subscribing to a solar project, the school system expects to save an estimated $20,320 in the first year and $478,650 over 25 years on electricity costs.
“It’s a nice large number,” said Cindy Kunde, the school district’s finance manager.
Pennies add up. The total reflects a savings of one cent per kilowatt hour, which is the community solar garden’s value proposition to customers.
The city of Glyndon also has signed up for the program and expects to save almost $2,000 per year, said Wendy Affield, city clerk for the town of 1,410.
"That's a nice savings," she said, especially when applied over 25 years. "Every penny helps. The city council wants to help the environment."
To be eligible, residential, governmental and commercial electricity customers must be within the service area of Xcel Energy. That means those served by Moorhead Public Service can’t participate, although Moorhead has its own community solar array.
US Solar, based in Minneapolis, has developed more than 50 community solar gardens in Minnesota, with another 40 under construction or in development.
Construction on the five Clay County solar arrays will start late this year. Each community solar garden has a generating capacity of up to one megawatt and occupies about 10 acres of land.
The Clay County projects, approved in January by the Clay County Commission, are the first US Solar community solar gardens to be developed beyond the Twin Cities metro counties.
“That’s where the bulk of activity has been because that’s where the bulk of customers are,” said Reed Richerson, US Solar’s chief operating officer. Clay County was attractive because, until now, it has been largely ignored by community solar garden developers, he said.
The solar gardens provide another option for electricity in areas that now have only one choice for power, he said.
Community solar garden customers must commit for 25-year subscriptions.
“You don’t have competitive options,” Richerson said. “We’re giving the opportunity to save money consistently for up to 25 years.”
With the penny-per-kilowatt-hour discount, a residential customer who consumes 10,000-kilowatt hours of electricity in a year could save $100, he said. Similarly, he added, a large commercial customer who burns 1 million kilowatt hours could save $1,000.
The community solar power customers still get their electricity from the grid. The electricity generated by the solar arrays goes to Xcel.
“Our customers are not buying power,” Richerson said. “They are buying bill credits.”
An informational meeting on subscriptions for the solar gardens will be held at 6 p.m. June 11 at the Dilworth Depot, 3 4th St. N.E. in Dilworth.
“We have remaining subscription capacity available,” Richerson said.
Moorhead Public Service has been giving its customers the option of participating in its community solar garden since 2015.
The program provides credits to customers who subscribe for 20 years, and savings for residential customers average between $35 to $40 per year, said Dennis Eisenbraun, energy services manager for Moorhead Public Service.
“It’s not much,” he said. Many subscribers sign up, he added, because they want to reduce their carbon footprint and use clean energy.
Moorhead Public Service will build its ninth solar array. The solar garden’s large customers include Minnesota State University Moorhead, Concordia College and Clay County. It took six weeks to sell subscriptions for the latest array, Eisenbraun said.
“It’s not as fast as it used to be,” he said. “You get that initial rush. But it’s fully signed up.”
In North Dakota, customers of Cass County Electric Cooperative have the option of signing up for its Prairie Sun community solar project, which is located along 63rd Avenue South in Fargo. It’s touted as North Dakota’s first community solar project.
Geronimo Energy has approval to build a 200-megawatt solar farm in rural Cass County’s Harmony Township. The $250 million project, which will sprawl over 1,600 acres, will sell to utilities and is expected to start operating in 2020.
US Solar also has community solar gardens in other states, including Illinois, Connecticut and New York, Richerson said. "We haven't done anything in North Dakota yet. I think we would really like to. I think it will happen."
If you go
What: Informational meeting about US Solar's community solar gardens in Clay County
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 11
Where: Dilworth Depot, 3 4th St. N.E., Dilworth, Minn.