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A newcomer to the Minnesota solar industry sees big potential to sign up more residential customers for community solar garden subscriptions.

CleanChoice Energy announced Tuesday that it has been selling subscriptions to eight solar gardens in Minnesota with a total capacity of 42.5 megawatts. The projects are owned by Cypress Creek Renewables and available to subscribers in more than 30 counties.

Minnesota has been a national leader for community solar but 86 percent of projects benefit commercial or public entities, according to Xcel Energy. The Washington, D.C., company said it will focus on residential and small business subscribers.

“We are pleasantly surprised at how popular these solar subscriptions are to residential customers,” she Laura Pagliarulo, who runs CleanChoice Energy Community Solar. “They are excited about local clean energy.”

Subscribers to CleanChoice Energy will receive up to 10 percent off on their Xcel Energy electricity bills. A federal grant helped the company develop a website that allows lets people enroll in less than 10 minutes, she said.

Dan Thiede, communications director for the Minnesota nonprofit Clean Energy Resource Teams, said signing up residential customers “is very resource intensive” and most solar gardens have found “more bang for their buck” by simply signing up business clients with high electricity needs. Under Minnesota’s law, community solar owners need only five subscribers, as long as no one of them exceeds 40 percent of a garden’s output.  

Attracting businesses and institutions to solar gardens has been easier and less expensive than reaching residents, said David Shaffer, policy and development director for the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association. Cypress Creek’s decision to partner with CleanChoice Energy and focus on residential “benefits Minnesota as a whole and the solar industry in particular,” he said.

“Our partnership with CleanChoice Energy is a win for consumers in Minnesota,” Cypress Creek Renewables CEO Matthew McGovern said in a statement. “Affordable solar energy is now more accessible to homes and businesses throughout the state.”

Minnesota has more than 5,000 community solar customers, and Pagliarulo said she expects the residential market to grow that number by thousands. Subscriptions are being activated as the gardens come online.

CleanChoice Energy has sold retail renewable energy to residents and businesses in deregulated markets in eight states for five years. It officially launched its community solar market offering recently, she said, and the company has plans to expand in Minnesota.

“We interested in the states with proscribed, robust community solar programs, which means they are legislatively driven,” she said. “Massachusetts and Minnesota are obviously the leaders in country, accounting for 80 percent of community solar in 2017.”

Frank is an independent journalist and consultant based in St. Paul and a longtime contributor to Midwest Energy News. His articles have appeared in more than 50 publications, including Minnesota Monthly, Wired, the Los Angeles Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota Technology, Finance & Commerce and others. Frank has also been a Humphrey policy fellow at the University of Minnesota, a Fulbright journalism teacher in Pakistan and Albania, and a program director of the World Press Institute at Macalester College. Frank covers the state of Minnesota.