Community Shared Solar in Minnesota: Learning from the First 300 Megawatts
Chan, Gabriel, Matthew Grimley, Elizabeth Arnold, Isaac Evans, Jacob Herbers, Maureen Hoffman, Benjamin Ihde, Poulomi Mazumder, Jordan Morgan, Nick Neuman, and Ryan Streitz. March 2018. Community Shared Solar in Minnesota: Learning from the First 300 Megawatts. Report of the Center for Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy, University of Minnesota.
Community shared solar is an emerging approach to deploying solar energy that promises to expand the market for solar by allowing a group of electricity customers without roof space or access to capital to own, finance, or lease a share of an offsite, centralized solar facility. Community solar programs are being developed across the country, and as of March, 2018, Minnesota had the country’s largest set of programs, with over 300 MW-AC installed. In this paper, we analyze the economic and political factors driving the emergence of Minnesota’s 33 community solar programs, and investigate the opportunities and barriers faced in developing community solar in different utility territories. We draw contrasts between Minnesota’s programs to illustrate the heterogeneity in approaches to designing community solar programs in terms of accessibility, affordability, subscriber acquisition, utility benefits, and subscriber agency. Our study takes a mixed methods approach: we conduct six in-depth case studies of Minnesota community solar programs, relying on a combination of informal interviews and primary source analysis; we conduct 12 semi-structured interviews with utility managers overseeing different community solar programs in the states; and we collect and analyze contracts of nearly 100 community solar subscription offers across the 31 utilities with a detailed cash flow analysis. We conclude with reflections on the Minnesota experience for reforming program and policy development in the state and lessons for the other 34 states developing community solar programs.
community solar, Minnesota, solar energy