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Meet that special community solar garden

Updated: March 17, 2016 - 12:44 pm

There’s a lot of interest in community solar gardens in Minneapolis. Just ask Gayle Prest.

The city’s sustainability director said she gets a few calls almost every week from people who want to learn more about the gardens, which offer solar-generated electricity to a group of subscribers. They often want Prest’s advice on which solar developer is the best — advice she can’t really offer because of her role with the city — so she decided it was time to “get all the developers in the same room so residents can compare notes.”

They’re calling the April 2 event “Solar Speed Dating.” Hosted by the city and local clean energy nonprofit Fresh Energy, it’s an opportunity for Minneapolis Xcel Energy customers to quickly meet at least four community solar garden developers and decide which service is the best fit for them.

If they’re lucky, they might make a solar energy love connection.

Community solar gardens are a good option for anyone who’s interested in solar power, but maybe has a house on a shady lot or doesn’t want to invest in solar panels. It’s also a way for renters to buy a bit of clean energy.

For their share of the solar garden’s output, subscribers get a credit on their Xcel bill. But subscription agreements vary from developer to developer.

“(Consumers) can’t really compare developers because they don’t know who’s out there,” Prest said.

And it’s still a new concept in Minnesota. It was just 2013 when a law paving the way for community solar gardens here passed the state legislature.

To help walk people through the basics shared solar, experts from Clean Energy Resource Teams plan two short presentations during the event. Fresh Energy’s Consumer Friendly Solar Pledge is a helpful list of community solar garden best practices (and can be found online at fresh-energy.org/communitysolarpledge/).

The event takes place during the fourth-annual City of Minneapolis Community Connections Conference at the convention center, a free, daylong gathering for Minneapolis residents to discuss development of the city’s next comprehensive plan, the future of neighborhood organizations and ways to connect residents to city leaders through service on city boards and commissions. The conference runs 8 a.m.–3 p.m., and advanced registration is recommended but not required.

Solar Speed Dating runs 9:30 a.m.–11:30 a.m. during the conference. As with the conference itself, registration is recommended but not required.