Although the launch of community solar gardens in Minneapolis is taking longer than many would like — developers applied to Xcel Energy in December 2014 and the approval process is slow — there will be opportunities for residents, without a large upfront investment, to participate in solar energy before the end of 2016.
Xcel Energy spearheaded a series of Partners in Energy forums involving community leaders, to discuss how to promote a Lake Street Energy Challenge, focused on helping residents and business leaders on the Lake Street/Midtown Greenway corridor lower energy use and make use of solar gardens. The Challenge will kick off at the Lyndale Open Streets event June 7 (11am-5pm, Lyndale between 22nd and 42nd Streets), where those in the community will be asked to sign a pledge to join the effort.
At a May 20 meeting of the team, Xcel Energy representative Tami Gunderzik explained to a new neighborhood association participant why the utility company is helping to organize this Challenge. “We need to help our community access tools to bring us into the future of energy efficiency. What insights can we gain, through helping the community deliver this program, that we can implement elsewhere in the future? How can we improve outreach to the rental market? How can we make an impact with income-restricted communities and convey the benefits of cost-effective steps to save energy?”
Tim Springer, a Phillips neighborhood-based landlord who focuses on energy efficiency in his units [see Q&A with him here], added that any effort to make an impactful change in energy use involves a two-pronged approach:
- maximizing energy efficiency
- coupled with renewable energy close to the source (much energy is lost simply transferring from source to outlet)
Why the Focus?
Many Minneapolis residents are familiar with the Home Energy Squad® program. For a fee, a team from the electric and natural gas utilities offer low-cost direct install measures, such as use of compact fluorescent light bulbs, weather stripping and low-flow showerheads.
There is concern that household participation might have reached a natural peak — households have largely participated. How can non-participating households be reached? How can low-income families, non-English-speaking households and rental units be served? A goal of this Challenge is to strengthen outreach through community leadership, bringing benefits of both energy efficiency and renewable energy to wider communities.
According to Timothy DenHerder-Thomas, a contributor to this MPLSGreen network and general manager of Cooperative Energy Futures, wind energy has been the cheapest renewable energy to date, but solar costs are dropping quickly, and will soon be cheaper than many dirty energy sources.
The goal of helping residents and businesses conserve energy use and make use of solar investments is to replace outdated coal, nuclear, and gas power plants, he said. [This is why Cooperative Energy Futures, among other things, offers weatherization workshops and is developing a co-op-based community solar garden in North Minneapolis, which aligns with the mission to bring cost-savings to a wider audience.]
Residential Savings Goals
Between June 2015 and December 2016, the goals of the Lake Street Energy Challenge are to reduce greenhouse gas by 365 metric tons — increasing annual savings from .15% to .40%. This is the equivalent of:
- Replacing 835 incandescent light bulbs with high efficiency models. In 2012 and 2013, the compact fluorescent and LED discount-purchase program by Xcel Energy was responsible for an average of 95kWh in savings.
- Having 84 residents recycle old, energy-inefficient refrigerators. Data from Xcel Energy’s Refrigerator Recycling program in 2012 and 2013 indicates this provided the largest savings: an average of 1131kWh. (Taking second refrigerators off the system and disposing of them properly provides different energy savings than when people buy a new fridge as a replacement.)
- Having an additional 750 neighborhood residents participate in the Home Energy Squad® program.
The Challenge also includes business-sector goals, particularly involving outreach to Somali and Hispanic business owners along the Corridor.
Lake Street Energy Challenge, through Xcel Energy’s Partners In Energy, is also looking at opportunities to incorporate natural gas savings by collaborating with CenterPoint’s conservation programs.
Additional savings are expected in 2016 through a future multi-family unit program provided by CenterPoint Energy and Xcel Energy.
How the Challenge Will Work
Data will be tracked in the Lake Street-Midtown Greenway corridor during the Challenge on a quarterly basis (and reported here on MPLSGreen.com).
Xcel Energy will provide kits for Energy Neighborhood Parties, including 25 CFL bulbs, energy program materials, and $100 gift cards for supplies. Translation services, promotional postcards, neighborhood event tables, a buy-down for low-income families, and community forums will be part of the outreach efforts.
Renewable energy efforts will include providing educational resources and information-sharing events.
MPLSGreen.com will be a resource center profiling residents and businesses that are participating in this Challenge: lessons learned, best practices, and inspirational community stories.
Subscribe to be kept apprised of smart sustainable design, renewable energy developments, and best practices around homegrown and re-use efforts.
- Minneapolis Sustainable Design: Where Is It?
- Removing barriers to energy savings
- Q&A: Benefiting from solar energy
- About Cooperative Energy Futures
- About Clean Energy Resource Teams
- Energy-Efficient Lighting 101
- Star Tribune: State’s largest solar project approved, May 29, 2015 (this is not for community solar gardens, but for solar energy to be specifically purchased from Geronimo Energy by Xcel)