VIRGINIA – Since I had solar panels installed on my house three years ago, I’ve paid more attention to how solar is faring in Minnesota. A June 12, 2018, Star Tribune article titled “Minnesota solar market surges” identifies Minnesota as number 14 among states for total solar power. It cites the Minnesota Solar Energy Institute Association statistics showing that the state’s solar market grew 89 percent in 2018’s first quarter. Still, my house is the only grid-tied solar rooftop installation in Virginia. But national statistics show that may be changing. A new report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory used special light detecting scans to estimate rooftop solar potential for those low and moderate income households in the country that are currently least likely to install solar (www.nrel.gov/ docs/fy18osti/70901.pdf).
The report identified 67.2 million residential buildings suitable for rooftop solar. If each of those buildings harnessed solar energy, about 75 percent of residential consumption could be supplied. We generate about 30 percent of our energy needs on average over all four seasons, but at the height of this summer we generated 92 percent. All of this points to a promising future.
Solar offers great potential for economic growth in northern Minnesota. Not only does solar provide energy security and a fixed energy cost for families, it also helps create good local jobs. Minnesota added 1,384 solar jobs in 2017, a 48 percent growth over the past year. Heliene just opened the former Silicon Energy factory in Mt. Iron with a new loan from the IRRRB, and will add 130 jobs to the facility this year. Increasing rooftop solar installations can also boost local jobs.
There’s a new nonprofit organization in Minnesota that is helping people go solar. Solar United Neighbors provides education and technical assistance to homeowners and small businesses interested in their own solar array. Installing solar now costs about half of what it did just five years ago, so it is a more affordable option.
Solar United Neighbors offers support through every step of the installation process. They also facilitate bulk purchase groups, or “solar co-ops,” with communities all across Minnesota, to help people get the best value on their solar installation. Solar co-op participants decide which installer to select through an open, competitive bidding process. Solar United Neighbors is installer-neutral and provides consumer protection throughout the process; they are there to make sure everyone gets a quality installation.
I am involved with the Iron Range Partnership for Sustainability. We are partnering with the Clean Energy Resource Teams and the City of Mt. Iron to bring Solar United Neighbors to our “neighborhood” for a presentation to inform residents who are interested in learning more about rooftop solar. IRPS, CERTS and the City of Mt. Iron are partnering with Solar United Neighbors of Minnesota to form the Iron Range Solar Coop. The first information session will be on Oct. 16, at 7 p.m. at the Mt. Iron Community Center, Iroquois Room.
Marlise Riffel lives in Virginia, MN.