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Project Planning Topics

 

Project Planning Resources

 


Solar Energy

Solar energy can be used to generate electricity, to provide hot water, and to heat, cool, and light buildings. Believe it or not, much of the Midwest has the same solar potential as Tallahassee, FL and Houston, TX! Click on a resource below to see more detail.

Finding out if you have a nice, sunny site for solar is a necessary first step in the project planning process. The Minnesota Solar Suitability App can help you do a quick virtual site assessment. If you don't live in Minnesota, websites like Geostellar, Mapdwell, Sun Number, or Project Sunroof can help you do the same thing. The best way to find out exactly how good your property is for solar energy is to get a solar site assessment from a solar installer. If you're looking for more reading, NREL's Consumer Guide to Buying a Solar Electric System is a good one.

Getting an energy audit is a great way to find ways to conserve energy and use it more efficiently. Ask your utility if they provide energy audits or recommend auditors. If you're looking for tips, check out the Right Light Guide from CERTs, the Home Envelope Guide and Appliances, Lighting, Electronics Guide from the Minnesota Department of Commerce, and the Minnesota Energy Challenge.

The average Minnesota home uses 800kWh each month of electricity and an efficient Minnesota home uses closer to 400kWh each month. To cover 100% of this use, you would need to install 8kW of solar PV for the average home and 4kW for the more efficient home.

Most solar installers will tell you that "it depends" when you ask them how much solar will cost. On average the total cost of solar installation can be between $15,000 to $29,000 for average residential systems sized between 4kW and 8kW. State, federal, and utility incentives can help to bring down these costs, and other funding and financing may also be available. See the planning section on Funding & Financing to learn more.

You're in the right place to find this out! The Clean Energy Project Builder provides a directory of solar installers that can help you get started. You should also review our list of questions to ask before hiring a company.

CERTs and the Minnesota Department of Commerce have compiled a list of questions to ask before hiring a company that can guide your initial conversation.

 


Community Solar Gardens

Community Solar Gardens are centrally-located solar photovoltaic (PV) systems that provide electricity to participating subscribers. If you live in an apartment, have a shaded roof, or don't want to own your own system, community solar could be a good fit for you. Click on a resource below to see more detail.

Community solar gardens are a simple way to go solar. You purchase a subscription, then soak in the rays. You can learn more by downloading the Guide to Community Solar from the Clean Energy Resource Teams. You can also find a lot more information, including answers to frequently asked questions at http://mncerts.org/solargardens.

The amount of electricity you use helps you decide how much solar to get, so check your utility bill to see your monthly usage. Your solar garden subscription can cover up to 120% of your annual electricity usage. A typical home uses 800 kilowatt-hours (kWh) a month. Remember: a more efficient home means more cost-effective solar, so do what you can to save energy.

The Clean Energy Resource Teams offers a suite of resources for understanding community solar gardens, including questions you should ask companies you're thinking about working with and a list of things you should see in a good contract.

The short answer is, it depends. Each developer will have their own subscription prices, and each subscriber will have an amount of their electricity that they’re willing or able to cover with solar. There are also different models for how you pay. Some are up-front subscription models wherein the subscriber would do a lump sum up-front payment. Others are a “pay as you go” model wherein a subscriber pays a monthly (or other periodic) fee. It may also be a combination of these two.

You're in the right place! The Clean Energy Project Builder provides a directory of Community Solar Gardens and a list of the companies working in the field. The key requirement is that the garden be in your electric utility's territory. If Xcel Energy is your provider, the garden must also be located in your county or an adjacent county.

The Clean Energy Resource Teams have created two community solar garden decision-making tools. The first helps you evaluate scenarios of future costs. The second allows you to compare various solar garden proposals.

  • Open to subscribers: These community solar gardens are available for subscription within the same utility territory (and the same or adjacent county for Xcel Energy). Gardens may or may not be installed—ask the developer for more information.
  • Not yet available: These community solar gardens will be open to subscription in the future and are in some stage of planning at the moment. Garden operators can change this status when they're ready.
  • Fully subscribed: These community solar gardens are fully subscribed, which means that they are not currently available to others. If subscriptions become available, the garden operators can change this status.

 


Wind Energy

Wind energy uses the energy in wind for practical purposes like generating electricity, charging batteries, or pumping water for agricultural purposes. Wind project range from very small to very large. Click on a resource below to see more detail.

Finding out if you have a nice, breezy site for wind energy is a necessary first step in the project planning process. In general, wind speeds that average below six to seven miles per hour are unable to produce significant amounts of electricity generation. Consider a small wind system if the average wind speed at your site is over 10-12 miles per hour. Wind resource maps can help you determine if your site should be further explored. Expert advice or detailed wind resource assessments should be sought when estimating energy production potential, and companies listed on the Clean Energy Project Builder can help. If you're looking for more reading, DOE's Consumer Guide to Small Wind Electric Systems is a good one.

Getting an energy audit is a great way to find ways to conserve energy and use it more efficiently. Ask your utility if they provide energy audits or recommend auditors. If you're looking for tips, check out the Right Light Guide from CERTs, the Home Envelope Guide and Appliances, Lighting, Electronics Guide from the Minnesota Department of Commerce, and the Minnesota Energy Challenge.

There are many factors that will impact your turbine selection, including your budget and your site. Home Power Magazine offers one of the best Small Wind Turbine Buyer's Guides out there, and we recommend reading through the whole thing, including the comparison table. Appropriate tower height will vary by location, cost, and the turbine selected. A general rule of thumb is "more tower, more power," and heights typically range from 45 to 120 feet.

Wind turbine costs vary dramatically based on the turbine and tower selected from $10,000 to $400,000. Your decision will all depend on how much power you need and how much you can afford to spend. You can compare costs for several wind turbines using a chart from Home Power Magazine, but note that these prices do not include tower and labor costs. There may be federal, state, and utility incentives available for wind energy systems. See our Funding & Financing section to learn more.

The Clean Energy Project Builder offers a directory of wind energy companies serving Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. You should also check out our list of questions to ask companies with whom you're considering working.

 


Funding & Financing

There are incentives, grants, and financing options that can help you pay for solar and wind energy projects. Click on a resource below to see more detail.

Minnesota Funding & Financing Resources – Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources. The State Energy Office has created this section of their website as a clearinghouse of information about available funding opportunities and resources.

Minnesota Solar LoanCenter for Energy and Environment. The Lending Center at the Center for Energy and Environment (CEE) offers low interest loans for Minnesota homeowners to increase the energy efficiency of their homes using photovoltaic (PV) solar technology. Loan amount up to $50,000 with 4.99% fixed interest rate and no maximum income limit with a term of up to 10 years. This loan is secured by a mortgage on the property. Utility rebated and state or federal tax credits may be included in the loan amount.

Commercial Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) FinancingProperty Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) is a new way to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades to the buildings of commercial property owners. Energy-saving measures pursued by the owners receive project financing and repay it as a separate item on their property tax assessment for a set period. PACE eliminates the burden of upfront costs by providing low-cost, long-term financing.

Guaranteed Energy Savings Program (GESP) FinancingThe Guaranteed Energy Savings Program (GESP) promotes awareness and implementation of energy efficient and renewable energy measures in public facilities to provide millions of dollars in annual energy savings in Minnesota. To do this, GESP supports you every step of the way.

USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program. This program provides funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects for rural small businesses and farms across the country.

 

 

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