MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — If you’ve seen lots of solar panels pop up on Minnesota farms over the last two years, there’s a good chance it’s a community solar garden.

They are blooming across Minnesota, especially in exurban areas like Dakota, Goodhue and Chisago counties.

That had Tim from Shafer wondering: How do community solar gardens work?

Twenty-two acres of Eichten’s Hidden Acres Farm is now covered in 15,000 solar panels, enough to create energy for 800 homes for a year.

Until two years ago, that land was a hay field for bison.

“Financially, it makes sense for me,” says Ed Eichten. “This solar lease helps me make twice what I could ever make on this land farming it. It’s a no-brainer.”

One-percent of Minnesota’s energy comes from solar – about half of that from the state’s 131 community solar gardens.

Solar energy is harnessed from the sun when the ultraviolet rays hit the silicone on the panels. Energy is created when the electrons are knocked loose and then converted into the AC power that can be used in homes and businesses.

Right now, there are basically three ways to participate in solar power: through solar panels on people’s homes and businesses, large solar farms like the 1,100-acre North Star Solar, and community solar gardens like the one on the Eichten farm.

“These gardens are made for the community,” says Eric Pasi, the chief development officer with IPS Solar. “A community solar project allows community members to participate in solar where they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.”

The power harnessed on the gardens doesn’t go to the farms they’re connected to, but rather to the local utility’s power grid. In many cases, that’s Xcel Energy, whose Solar Rewards program is the largest in the United States.

The community solar gardens have subscribers who pay in each month and then get credits on their electricity bills. Pasi says subscribers generally get a 10-percent savings.

Cities, counties, school districts and businesses are the biggest subscribers right now, but many homeowners can sign up, too.

For more information, visit Xcel Energy or Clean Energy Project Builder.

Heather Brown

Comments (2)
  1. There’s another side to solar panels. FoxConn, Taiwan solar panel company is building a new manufacturing facility in MI. Quartz is needed for solar panels. In the process of mining quartz, a lot of water is needed. How much? Foxconn plans to take 7 million gallons of water out of Lake Michigan PER DAY. Mining quartz is not eco-friendly, so solar panels is not completely a no brainer. Another issue, farm land replacing food and oxygen providing plants with solar “gardens”. Won’t that be an issue 20 yrs down the line? Why aren’t most panels going on rooftops?