The Minnesota Solar Community Garden program recently enacted by the state legislature requires XCel Energy, the principal supplier of electricity in the state, to create community solar installations in its service area. Community solar makes it possible for renters, low income housing residents, schools, and people with rooftops that are not suitable for solar panels to obtain electricity from clean and renewable solar power.

XCel has contracted with Sunrise Energy Ventures of Minnetonka to create up to 100 community solar gardens in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Each garden will have a capacity of 1 megawatt. Combined, they will provide more than 100 megawatts of electricity and make Minnesota the leader in community solar in the United States. At the present time, there is only a total of 66 megawatts of community solar in all the rest of America.

Sunrise Ventures has chosen SolarCity, the nation’s #1 solar power provider, to develop, operate and own the gardens. SolarCity expects to hire local installation and operations personnel to build the projects. A significant proportion of the electricity produced will be reserved for low income customers of XCel Energy. The community solar program is expected to benefit many of the more than 600,000 apartment dwellers living in the Twin Cities area.

Here’s how the community solar program works. Customers will enter into subscriber agreements to purchase the solar power the gardens produce at a rate of 13 cents per kWh. For up to 25 years, Xcel Energy will credit the subscribers at a rate of 14.7 cents per kWh of electricity purchased from the solar gardens. That gives subscribers an immediate 11.5% savings on their utility bills and insulates them from rate increases during the term of the agreement.

“In Minnesota, anyone with an Xcel account can access the Solar Community Garden program, whether or not their home or school is optimal for solar or they live in a rental unit, condominium or low-income housing complex,” said Dean Leischow, CEO of Sunrise Energy Ventures. “We chose SolarCity as a partner because of its solid track record of residential service and its commitment to help Minnesota rate payers utilize clean power at a savings.”

“The State of Minnesota and its Public Utilities Commission have made a significant contribution to the proliferation of solar power by passing solar garden legislation,” said Jesse Jones, SolarCity’s vice president of development and acquisitions. “They’ve also made it possible for subscribers to have an involvement with locally-generated clean power, rather than a credit for or certificate representing solar kilowatts generated far, far away.”

SolarCity will begin offering community solar subscriptions to residential customers at the end of 2015.