Solar Gardens Nab $11 Million Financing

During solar energy’s brief history, banks have for the most part refused to back solar operators because of their heavy reliance on taxpayer-backed funding. A different legislative body could quickly reduce or eliminate funding.

That’s why it’s significant to note that Solar garden operator SunShare has secured $11 million in construction financing to pay for its  SaintSun (St. Michael) and ZumbroSun (Zumbro Falls) projects, both of which are expected to reach mechanical completion in October.

“Securing construction financing through our own balance sheet is a critical proof point that speaks to the bankability of SunShare and its residential-focused community solar model,” said David Amster-Olszewski, SunShare’s founder and CEO. “With the support of partners like ANB Bank, we’ll be able to continue to execute on our pipeline of community solar projects and expand the power of clean energy choice to even more communities across the country.”

Both the SaintSun and ZumbroSun community solar projects are being built by Conti Solar, a full turnkey contractor. These two projects will consist of six total community solar gardens, which will serve approximately 1,200 households in Carver, Wabasha, and adjacent counties, as well as Saint Mary’s University. Subscribers will begin receiving the benefits of clean solar power as well as credits on their Xcel Energy utility bills for energy generated by the gardens once the interconnection process is completed in late 2018 or early 2019.

Competitive community solar programs got their start with a 2 MW pilot program in Colorado Springs in 2011 and are now the fastest growing sector of the solar industry according to a 2018 report released by the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI). Community solar programs and/or regulations now exist in 19 states with overall program capacity in the gigawatts.

Minnesota’s Community Solar Garden program grew sixfold in 2017, adding enough electricity to power about 32,000 homes. The state-mandated solar garden program, which covers Xcel Energy’s Minnesota territory, has 58 projects online, up from about 10 a year ago. Those solar gardens together can produce up to 211 megawatts of electricity, according to Xcel, up from just 35 megawatts at the end of 2016. (A megawatt is 1 million watts), according to the Star Tribune.

Minneapolis-based Xcel, Minnesota’s largest utility, administers the Community Solar Garden program, which was created by the state Legislature in 2013. It’s aimed at residents, businesses and governments that want solar energy without setting up their own rooftop solar arrays. Instead, they subscribe to solar “gardens,” larger arrays that are developed and run by independent companies that connect to Xcel’s grid, the Star Tribune reports. At the end of 2017’s third quarter, Minnesota ranked 16th nationally among states for total installed solar capacity, up from 31st a year earlier, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.