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frequently asked questions

What is a community solar garden?

A Community Solar Garden (CSG) is a large solar electric array which generates bill credits for participating subscribers.  It is located off site from the customer’s location, so the electricity goes into Xcel’s grid, and Xcel compensates the customer with a bill credit.  When you subscribe to a MNCS CSG, you will immediately cut your electricity costs by 10%.

What is a subscription to a Community Solar Garden?

A subscription with Minnesota Community Solar (MNCS) lets you produce local solar electricity without putting panels on your property.  A subscription is like a service contract, rather than actual ownership of the solar array.  When you subscribe, each month your utility will give you a credit on your bill for the electricity generated by your portion of the community solar garden (CSG). You then pay a portion of those credits to MN Community Solar for building, maintaining, and monitoring your CSG.

Can I join?

Anyone with an Xcel Energy electricity account can join; including renters, homeowners, businesses, and nonprofits.  You must be located in the same or contiguous county to the CSG.  We expect to have plenty of gardens serving the Twin Cities metro area, as well as other parts of Minnesota.  To join with no up-front cost, MNCS subscribers need a FICO score of 680+.

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Is this Local?

Yes.

MNCS is a Minnesota company that uses Minnesota labor, Minnesota products, and Minnesota Sunshine to bring you clean renewable energy.  

- Our Community Solar Gardens help grow the local economy by using Minnesota labor to install our solar arrays.

- By teaming with Community Partners we help support local organizations and communities.

- In addition to providing local jobs, and savings on your electricity, CSGs reduce the amount of energy generated from coal, improving our local air quality and health.  

With so many local benefits, it’s hard to find a reason not to sign up.

Why should I participate with MN Community Solar?

All CSGs produce clean, renewable energy.  Many CSGs can save you money.  But, Minnesota Community Solar (MNCS) offers the most consumer-friendly Subscription Agreement.  And, we are Minnesotans just like you, dedicated to building a better, cleaner Minnesota for the future.  With no upfront costs, flexible transfer/exit provisions that protect the subscriber, and +10% savings in year 1, we make it easy to go solar.  All you have to do to get started is complete our Subscriber Interest Form.

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How much will it cost?

The short answer: Less than you are paying for your electricity now, and you don’t have to make any up-front payments.  In the first year, you’ll save 10% or more!


For each kilowatt-hour (kWh) generated by your portion of the CSG, you will pay MNCS $.133.  For that same kWh, you will be credited $.146 by Xcel.  The difference is your savings.

Xcel’s rates increase on an annual basis, and your bill credit will increase proportionally.  Future savings depend on Xcel rate changes.  Our pricing increases 2.3% per year.  Xcel’s rates have increased at 2.75% over the last 20 years, 4% over the last decade, and 5.5% in 2016.  The more Xcel rates increase, the more you save.  MNCS uses an Xcel rate increase of 2.75% when calculating your future savings.

How do I pay MNCS?

Your monthly payment to MNCS, a secure automatic withdrawal (ACH) from your checking, will be equal to your expected annual production spread evenly over 12 months.

Will my subscription payment and bill credit be the same each month?

Solar production varies throughout the year.  Our flat monthly payment structure allows you to budget for your subscription.  Your subscription cost will be a fixed amount each month based on expected annual production from your portion of the garden, averaged over 12 months.  Your bill credit from Xcel will vary from month to month and is based on actual production from your portion of the garden.

During the MNCS annual true-up (reconciliation) the difference between expected and actual will be corrected.  If the garden produced less than expected one year and you overpaid, we will reimburse you for the difference.  If the garden produced more than expected one year and you underpaid, you would pay MNCS the difference, (because you would already have received bill credits for that extra production).  The bottom line is you only pay for what is produced, and you get credited by Xcel for what is produced.

Do I get rebates or tax credits?

Any rebate and tax credit savings are already built into your subscription.  That way, you won’t need to worry about following up to receive savings.

If I change my electricity usage, how will that affect my subscription and bill credit?

The short answer, it won’t.

Your usage history is used to determine your eligibility at the beginning of your subscription (or when you move).  It is as if you are assigned to a certain number of solar panels based on your past usage.  But, once your subscription takes effect your usage no longer has any influence on your subscription or bill credits.  If you reduce your electricity usage after your subscription begins, you may end up subscribed to more than 120%.  This is allowed.

Once you are a CSG subscriber you will have two line items on your Xcel bill each month; one charging you for your electricity usage, and the other crediting you for your garden production.  These numbers are not linked, and either can vary.  Usage is primarily influenced by your home behaviors, and garden production is primarily influenced by the weather.

While your CSG bill credits ARE NOT linked to your usage cost, they ARE linked to your subscription cost.  You pay for the solar energy produced, and are credited for the solar energy produced.

Here are two examples that show how changing your usage would impact your bill.  
Example A shows a subscriber with 10,000 kwh annual usage history who maintains the same usage in year 1.  

Example B shows a subscriber with 10,000 kwh annual usage history who installs new energy efficient appliances and windows and reduces their usage to 8,000 kwh in year 1.  (Remember, after your subscription begins you are allowed to reduce your usage and still be eligible for your subscription.  Only if you move will your size eligibility be recalculated).  

When you compare these two examples you see that the MNCS CSG subscription cost and Xcel CSG bill credits are are the same, regardless of usage.  And the same amount of savings is attributed to their CSG subscription, even though reducing usage allows them to have a lower out of pocket.

Example A

Example B

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What if the panels produce less electricity than expected?

Our annual true-up (reconciliation), ensures that you only pay for the amount of electricity that was produced.

How do I know what subscription size is right for me?

We’ll help you figure out the perfect size for your subscription; we recommend covering 120% of your electricity with solar energy.  Choosing your maximum subscription size not only saves you more money but is good for the environment and creating local jobs.

What are the environmental benefits?

Electricity generation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.
By switching to solar, a household that uses 10,000 kwh per year can prevent 6.9 tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere annually.  That’s the equivalent of over 19,000 miles driven or 200 trees planted EACH YEAR*.  Signing up for a CSG is one of the easiest and most significant ways to reduce your carbon footprint.  You will also be avoiding emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and mercury that are harmful to human health, wildlife, and Minnesota’s natural environment.

*EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator
What is the difference between kW and kWh, (my subscription is for a set number of kW, but my Xcel bill credits me in kWh)?

Your subscription will be for a specific number of kW, which represents the number of solar panels needed to produce your required electricity, and determines your portion of the garden.  The electricity produced by the panels is measured in kWh. You are billed and credited for that electricity produced over time.  The rate you are credited ($.146/kWh) is higher than the amount you pay ($.133/kWh), which creates savings for you.  The more the garden produces, the more savings you will see.

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What if I move?

If you move, your subscription can move with you, provided you stay within the same or adjacent county to your CSG.  There is no cost to bring your subscription with you to your new residence.  However, when you move we will need to recalculate your eligible subscription size.  

If you move outside the CSG territory or no longer have an Xcel account you will become ineligible for your subscription and can either transfer the subscription to someone else for $100 or pay an early termination fee of $250, (this covers our cost to replace your subscription).

What if I want to transfer my subscription to someone else?

You can transfer your subscription to your friends, family, or even the new residents moving into your home, provided they meet the eligibility requirement of your subscription; (Xcel account holder, within the CSG territory, subscription size doesn’t exceed 120% of their usage and a FICO score of 680+).  The transfer fee is only $100.

What if I move within the CSG territory and have to downsize my subscription because my new residence uses less energy?

If you become ineligible for a portion of your subscription, the transfer or early termination fee will be prorated based on the portion of your subscription you need to relinquish.  For example, if you downsize and are only eligible for half of your subscription size, you would pay half of the transfer or early termination fee.

What if I pass away?

There is no transfer or termination fee if you pass away.  Your family or estate need not assume any responsibility for your subscription unless you want to make it available to them.

What are your answers to the CERTs CSG Disclosure Checklist?


Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) is a Minnesota non-profit that provides resources and education on Community Solar Gardens, among other clean energy programs/topics.  They are an important player in bringing CSGs to Minnesota and have created a “Community Solar Garden Subscriber Disclosure Checklist” to help residents evaluation solar developers like MNCS.   
We value CERTs’ role in the solar industry and have completed their checklist so you can easily reference the places in our Subscription Agreement that address their checklist questions.   

Links:

- MNCS Completed CERTs “Community Solar Garden Subscriber Disclosure Checklist”

- MNCS Subscription Agreement

What if I simply want to terminate my contract early?

If you are still eligible for your subscription and simply want to terminate the contract, you have the option to pay a termination fee equal to one year’s worth of subscription payments, after year six.

You may not terminate for the first six years, (our banks require a minimum contract length to ensure project viability), but you can always transfer the subscription.

What if I’m signed up for Windsource, will joining a CSG take support away from wind energy?

Signing up for a CSG will NOT remove support from Windsource.  After subscribing to a CSG, your Xcel bill will look and function exactly the same way as it currently does, with the exception that you will have an additional line item crediting you for your solar production.  If you are signed up for Windsource they will still calculate the amount of wind needed to cover your usage and charge you the Windsource fee.  The nice thing about doing both Windsource and solar is that the savings from your CSG can cover the cost of your Windsource fee, and you’re supporting two renewable energy markets.

Can I participate if I have a non-standard Xcel plan, (like “Time of Day Plan”)?

Yes, you can participate with any of the Xcel plans, including any of the residential or commercial plans.  The only time your plan may factor in is at the beginning of your subscription when your usage history is used to calculate your eligible subscription size.  We will work with you to determine the right subscription size.

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