When considering solar energy, many of us may not know where to begin or may not understand the different opportunities that are available to us. These initial barriers can prevent us from moving forward with procuring and installing solar. With more organizations and utilities focusing on clean energy resources to meet the needs of communities, customers, and policies and goals, there are more resources and tools for us to access that can help guide us. To provide additional resources and tools for local government entities and public schools in Minnesota, the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) partnered with the Minnesota Department of Administration’s Office of Enterprise Sustainability and Great Plains Institute (GPI). Together, they developed Solar Possible, a joint effort to provide resources and tools for procuring solar for local governments across Minnesota. This effort has been recognized and awarded by the Environmental Protection Agency and the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Energy & Climate – Solar Possible
Presented by Stoel Rives
The Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) have worked with local government entities for a long time, encouraging them to be energy efficient and use clean energy. Building on best practices from a successful effort helping local governments subscribe to community solar gardens, CERTs was able to evolve its focus to on-site solar with Solar Possible. When they learned the State of Minnesota was starting to procure on-site solar, CERTs decided to collaborate with them. Through this partnership, Solar Possible engaged in bulk solar procurement through a master contract that allowed local governments and schools to participate in the process. Solar developers applied to be pre-qualified contractors, which eased the process of searching for a solar developer. Additionally, Solar Possible gave priority to contractors, such as Mouli Engineering, to include as a pre-qualified contractor if they were participants in the State of Minnesota’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program (DBE), a program aiming to increase the participation of women and minority owned businesses in state contracts and procurements.
CERTs conducted outreach and recruitment for Solar Possible by organizing meetings, helping to develop Request for Proposals (RFPs), and assisting with site selection. Many are interested in clean renewable energy across Minnesota, but also face barriers to move in this direction – this is where CERTs and its partners come in to guide and support those interested in solar. Through the joint effort of Solar Possible, there were eight local government entities interested and four public entities that procured solar for their own facilities. These solar projects resulted in 2 MW of power on 11 different sites. Of the 11 sites, 6 solar sites were procured by the State of Minnesota with the rest of the sites procured by Hennepin County and South Saint Paul and Edina Public Schools.
When we spoke with Peter Lindstrom, the Manager of Public Sector and Community Engagement at CERTs, about the biggest accomplishment of Solar Possible, he said, “Spurring local government to take action – I believe there’s a will for local government and schools to move forward, but they have competing priorities, sometimes they just need technical assistance to get going.”
Solar Possible partners, including public entities, learned together and asked the difficult questions that resulted in gained knowledge about solar procurement, solar energy opportunities, and spurred these public entities to take action. This effort had impact across Minnesota and the resources and tools developed through this event can be used into the future.
What Comes After
Best practices and successes of Solar Possible continues to guide CERTs and its partners through their other efforts. They have learned and overcome the significant barriers to local government to procure solar, such as financial hurdles, contracts and agreements, and site selection. Through third party financing, this has reduced the upfront financial burden through a power purchase agreement between the entity and its third party. CERTs and its partners have helped local government understand contracts and agreements more by providing technical assistance. Their guidance on site selection has also helped these entities better understand which roofs can withstand solar and which roofs can’t. Through all of this, they continue to provide assistance and guidance to other entities, such as businesses and nonprofits, to finance clean energy and have a better understanding of opportunities such as tax incentives and PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy).
CERTs is now helping schools procure solar, using resources and tools developed by Solar Possible.
The biggest barrier to procuring solar is financial. Schools have limited budgets, making procuring solar arrays particularly challenging. With schools converting to solar energy, however, they can save a significant amount of money and reduce their second highest expense of utilities, behind personnel. Most recently, CERTs is partnering with South St. Paul’s Kaposia Education Center, a school where a significant amount of its students receives free and reduce lunch, to install solar arrays. Using an equity lens, a priority of CERTs, the efforts of Solar Possible will allow the school to save money on energy costs and reallocate this funding to support their students’ education directly. This school is projected to install 450 kW of solar arrays this summer of 2020.
Celebrating the 2020 Environmental Initiative Awards
The wait is over – it’s finally time for the 2020 Environmental Initiative Awards! We are excited to celebrate the 2020 Environmental Initiative Awards online with you. While this is the first time in the 26-year history that the Awards event will not convene in person, we remain committed to highlighting innovative, impactful and collaborative people and projects working in partnership at the nexus of a healthy environment, a prosperous economy and an equitable society.