Xcel Energy launches community solar program

The new community solar program Xcel Energy launched on Friday could mean a big boost in solar electricity for the utility.

Here's how it works: Rather than installing solar panels on their rooftops, utility customers — and even apartment dwellers — can subscribe to a community solar garden. The customer chooses how much solar power to buy or lease, and whatever the panel produces will be credited on the customer's Xcel electricity bill.

Xcel has about 14 megawatts in its system right now. The Solar Rewards Community could add 100 megawatts in 2015, or about enough to serve 25,000 homes, said Xcel Senior Vice President Laura McCarten. “We see high interest in this and we expect we’ll see a lot of applications but we don’t know what the pace will be,” added McCarten. “One estimated guess is we could get 100 megawatts of applications, but we’ll see how it unfolds. Time will tell.”

The reason for the potentially large number of applicants is that Minnesota is the first state not to cap the amount of power that can be generated from community solar gardens. In Colorado, where Xcel also operates, the state imposed a limit of 6 MW on the amount of power that can be installed annually. 

The first group of community solar gardens are expected to be running by the middle of next year, with construction occurring in spring.

You can read more about community solar gardens via these links:

Midwest Energy News

Star Tribune

Pioneer Press

MPR News