Over 70 neighborhood leaders gathered at Mayflower Church in Minneapolis on Thursday, April 30th to learn about community solar gardens, including key considerations and specific roles for neighborhoods.

Setting the Stage
The event was co-hosted by the City of Minneapolis and Great Plains Institute’s Metro CERT program, and was the result of a several-month planning process in which a group of eight neighborhood leaders provided their input and expertise in designing this workshop. Gayle Prest, Sustainability Director with the City of Minneapolis, welcomed attendees by telling them, “Don’t sweat it.” She encouraged them to get excited, explore this emerging opportunity, and know that this workshop is intended to be just the beginning of learning about solar gardens.

What Role to Play?
Lissa Pawlisch, CElean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) Statewide Director, provided a basis of understanding on solar gardens (see here for more info on the basics) and expanded on specific roles neighborhoods can play, including the following:

  • Educator – provides outreach on the general concept, but is not tied to a specific project.
  • Subscriber – subscribes neighborhood-owned buildings to a solar garden.
  • Host Site – hosts a solar garden on neighborhood-owned property.
  • Coordinator – pulls together the pieces of a project, such as finding suitable host sites, attracting quality developers, or aggregating subscribers for a specific project.

Pawlisch also encouraged neighborhoods to start by defining their goal and ask themselves, “Why do you want to do this and what do you hope to get out of it.” Answering those questions can help make the entire process run smoother (for a whole list of questions, check out our Neighborhood Questionnaire).

Check out Lissa’s presentation:

Experience on the Ground
After nailing down the basics, Billy Weber, Metro CERT Steering Committee Member, moderated a panel in which four people gave their insights on work happening right now. Holly Lahd, former Utilities Rates Analyst with the MN Department of Commerce talked about program rules in Xcel Energy territory. Sarah Linnes-Robinson discussed her role as an Educator in the Kingfield Neighborhood of South Minneapolis. Jamie Long has been working with both the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council and a local nonprofit, Linden Hills Power and Light (LHPL), as a Coordinator – finding three suitable host sites and aggregating subscribers from the neighborhood. Last but certainly not least, John Dunlop talked about how Minnesota Interfaith Power Light (MNIPL) has developed a Values Statement to guide its engagement in solar gardens.

Learning from your Neighbors
With their minds full of new information, attendees had the opportunity to join two of six different breakout conversations. The conversations ranged from the basics, including “Roles for Neighborhoods” and “Outreach and Organizing,” to more complex topics such as “Considerations for Working with a Developer” and “Presenting Community Solar to Your Board.” Attendees also had the opportunity to speak with Jamie Long and fellow LHPL Board Member Keiko Veasy about their process of “Becoming a Marketing Partner/Aggregator,” while John Dunlop and Caitlin Olson talked about MNIPL’s work on setting “Values and Priorities.”

Encouraging Words
At the end of the evening, the whole group came back together to share lessons learned and words of encouragement. One person noted that neighborhood leaders just don’t gather like this often enough. Others mentioned the opportunity to bring residents and businesses together around a topic of interest. In the final comments of the evening, Jo Ann Musumeci from the Whittier Neighborhood remarked that while the opportunity for residents and neighborhoods to participate in solar gardens is still slowly emerging, that also means neighborhoods have time to determine their goal, so that when the opportunity does become available, they’ll be ready to act.

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