This case study was originally published in the 4th edition of Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools (2022).
North Community High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota is the host site for an innovative community solar project that prioritizes climate justice, diversity, and equity. The high school serves a racially and economically diverse community, making it an ideal location to install a solar garden that provides community members an opportunity to access clean, cost-saving energy. Minneapolis Public Schools and the City of Minneapolis together benefit from 20% of the array’s electricity, and the remainder is allocated for the benefit of subscribers in the community.
What Is Community Solar?
Equitable access to solar power is growing through a practice called community solar, also known as shared solar or solar gardens. Community solar enables customers (or subscribers) to buy or rent part of an off-site solar system and receive credit on their energy bill for the electricity it produces. This arrangement allows people to enjoy the benefits of solar without having to install their own system, making solar accessible to those who rent or cannot afford to install solar.
The North Community High School Community Solar Garden is a collaborative project involving the school district, local government, and community partners. Two local Black-owned businesses, Renewable Energy Partners and Go Solar Construction, developed and installed the 365 kW solar garden, which went online in summer 2022. Nonprofit Minneapolis Climate Action partnered with Renewable Energy Partners to enroll families in the solar garden and administer subscriptions.
The solar garden is set up with low-income households in mind. Families who wouldn’t normally have access to solar are first in line for subscriptions. To increase accessibility, enrollment requires no credit checks or upfront costs. If subscribers want to save more on their electricity bill, they can choose to pay a one-time subscription fee. The solar garden has the capacity to power up to 70 homes, and to date 65 households have subscribed.
“Community solar gives people an opportunity to own their own solar array and participate in something collectively with their neighbors,” said Kristel Porter, executive director of Minnesota Renewable Now and a leader of community engagement efforts around the solar garden.
“This is especially important for communities that often get left behind in so many ways. It’s empowering for them too – they finally have a say in something that directly impacts their lives.”