Saturday, May 16, 2015

Solar Gardening

We're looking into solar. 

We belong to a electric utility cooperative. What this means is that we are members of a regional electricity distribution network that buys power from other producers (what they call -upstream supply). As members we have access to an opportunity to participate in a solar garden.

What's a solar garden? It is a small field, an acre give or take, that has been set up with a solar array. The coop pays for the installation of the solar array with member dollars who opt to prepay for their "share" of electricity. Each panel installed in the garden is worth a set amount of annual kilowatt hours. You can pay for your whole home electricity needs or just a portion of its needs. You may purchase 20 years of your electricity outright (and therefore pay nothing more for your monthly usage over that 20 years) or pay a predetermined KwH rate for that 20 year period that averages on par with the conventional electricity rate. In other words, no matter how you pay for it, your electricity rate is flat over 20 years.

The "garden" is shared among any cooperative members who buy in. The electricity is delivered over the cooperative's electric lines already in place. This way you do not need to install any panels on your home, cut down any trees for efficiency, or disturb your roof or even worry about damage (insurance is included in the rate). The panels in the garden are installed in the optimum position for maximum light gathering.

You may be thinking, isn't it cold and snowy in Minnesota for solar power? It is, but we have other advantages. Solar panels are more efficient in the cold than they are in, say, the heat of an Arizona desert. We also have exceptionally long summer daylight hours, so the panels make energy for longer periods than in a place closer to the equator. So, while our efficiency decreases in winter due to lower light levels, we make up for it with our cooler, longer summer days. The panels will be maintained by the cooperative who have so far shown to have first rate service (I've had them over twice for service -I did not pay for this and they were generous and courteous).

I'm very excited by the idea of cooperative electricity. Now, if only the giant upstream producers had less legal pull in the state capitals, we could build more of these solar gardens. As it is, the cooperative must get permission to build the gardens, and does not get to own them outright. The machinations of power are complex, it appears, something I hardly understand enough to discuss. At this time the coop has 50,000 members but there are only 400 solar garden members. This needs to change.


  1. What a great opportunity. As solar becomes more possible for the individual home owner, we are interested. There are two demonstration homes in our area. One has a solar "garden" similar to your photo, except in the front yard. I assume that it produces enough to help reduce the annual cost for that house. they have the garden screened with boxwoods. The other is very interesting... it looks like a huge flat umbrella on a 15-foot tall post. It turns during the day so that it always faces the sun, and adjusts to the sun's elevation during the whole year. It's kind of ugly, but what a cool idea. We need to look in that direction if we want our grandchildren to be able to afford to read after dark! Keep us posted, please.

  2. PS. The panels in the "garden" look to be 3 feet by 2 feet, and there are at least 30 of them in neat lines across the front yard.

    1. The beauty of the solar "garden" is that it is off site, managed by the utility co-op, and an aggregate of several homeowners. None of us has to think about its appearance and we don't need any boxwoods to block it out!

  3. What a great idea! We have a lot of overcast days in Seattle so I always wonder if solar power will work here.