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Last month I was thumbing through a Northern Sun catalog. A short article inside the front cover caught my eye. The article announced Minneapolis’ first community solar garden. I had never heard of the concept of a solar garden, but I was hooked immediately. According to the Solar Garden Institute, a solar garden is a community shared solar array with grid-connected subscribers. Homes and businesses, even if shaded by trees, receive a bill credit as if the panels were on their own roof using “virtual net metering”.” It is an opportunity for home owners, renters, businesses, churches, etc. to invest in solar energy without having to install solar panels at their own facility. The solar garden atop Northern Suns’ 5,000 square foot flat roof in Minneapolis, Minnesota will be able to produce enough energy to power 8-10 homes. The cost of the project is about $180.000.

Minnesota Community Solar lists four great benefits of solar gardens:

  1. Subscribers save money on their electric bills
  2. Rooftops and previously unusable land (former landfills, brownfields, airport land) can become sites for clean energy generation
  3. Utilities are assisted in reaching renewable energy goals
  4. Our carbon footprint decreases by a shoe size or two

Of course, I have been wondering how long it takes for subscribers to recoup their investment. I asked a Northern Sun employee, but he said that had not yet been determined for their facility. The Solar Garden Institute offers an estimate of 6-20 years for a solar garden investment to pay for itself. The length of time depends on the initial cost of the project, maintenance costs, tax credits, and the amount of available sunlight.

How ‘bout a community solar garden in Wichita, Kansas?