Highlights from the Explore Solar Virtual Panel

Dear Sam,

I missed the TNA Environmental Team’s Explore Solar Virtual Panel event last month and wondered if you could give me some of the highlights from the presentation?


Dear Ralph,

Good news – we archived the zoom event, and you can watch it any time here. I’m also happy to share answers to some of the questions we had for our experts with you now!

Do solar panels work in Minnesota? Yes! Solar works in Minnesota. The state says the sun shines as much here as in Miami. Solar produces power in the dead of winter on sunny days and even cloudy ones. In 2020, renewable sources of electricity such as wind, solar, and hydropower accounted for 29% of in-state electricity net generation. According to one of our presenters, Frank Jossi, solar remains, along with wind and hydro, a leading source of clean energy for the state, the nation, and the world. Unlike wind, Frank tells us that solar allows for local generation in neighborhoods and on homes. It’s the only clean energy, so far, that enables people in cities to produce their own power. For more information, check out these sites: Minnesota Renewable Energy or Minneapolis Climate Action.

How long does it take for solar panels to pay off? It depends on several variables, including the number of panels, the location, and your initial costs. Most experts say the payoff is between 10 and 15 years.

What if my house is too shady? If you have too much shade, you can still participate in solar energy by joining a community solar garden.

What is a community solar garden? Community solar gardens (CSG) are centrally-located solar photovoltaic (PV) systems that provide electricity to participating subscribers. Community solar gardens are for people who want to go solar but cannot do so on their own. You can subscribe to a community solar garden installed near you and get credits on your utility bill.

Can I access solar energy as a renter? See above answer.

What are the upfront costs of joining a community solar garden? The two most common ways of subscribing to a solar garden are to pay an upfront cost or to pay as you go with no upfront costs. Some subscriptions are a combo of the two. Pricing varies depending on the length of the contract, how big your subscription share is, and other factors.

Can I afford solar energy? Community solar is designed to make solar energy more affordable and accessible to all residents. Depending on your subscription contract, you may even save a little money on your energy bill. Many community solar gardens have no upfront fees, so you can pay as you go. Some are even designed specifically for low-income households with no credit check requirements.

How do I find local CSGs? Are there any that are non-profit? Find a list of local gardens at Clean Energy Resource Teams. Minneapolis Climate Action will help you find local non-profit gardens, such as North High School’s Community Solar Garden.

How do I subscribe to a CSG? Once you find a garden that you like and that is taking new subscribers, you subscribe by signing a contract. Contracts are written for a certain amount of shares (they help you determine that amount) and a contracted cost per kilowatt generated. The agreement includes you allowing them to sell the energy generated by your share of the garden to Xcel Energy (if you live in Hennepin County). You will receive a bill from the CSG provider each month for the amount of energy (kilowatts) generated by your share. Then Xcel gives you credit on your utility bill each month for that same amount of energy. The credit from Xcel is typically around one cent more per kilowatt than what you are paying the CSG provider.

Does solar really make an impact on climate change? Yes, moving to solar energy generation is beginning to make a big difference! Traditional sources of electricity, such as coal plants and fossil gas-fired plants, release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the air, contributing to climate change. Considering the total cost of coal and fossil gases, which includes what we pay as a society in harmful side effects to our health and our ecosystems, solar costs half as much to develop and operate as coal and fossil gas plants but with a much smaller carbon footprint. Solar energy is proving to have an important role in reducing water use and greenhouse gas emissions, thus mitigating climate change, which is critical to protecting humans, wildlife, and ecosystems.