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New Co-op Vows to Expand Reach of MN Solar Power

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A solar farm near Paynesville is one of the state's largest. (Greg Gjerdingen/Flickr)
A solar farm near Paynesville is one of the state's largest. (Greg Gjerdingen/Flickr)
 By Laurie Stern, Public News Service - MN, Contact
September 6, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The first subscribers are enrolling in Cooperative Energy Futures, a member-owned group that will access power from five new solar gardens in southern Minnesota.

The co-op's mission is to make solar power accessible and affordable for people of all income levels. Brett Benson, operations director at Interfaith Power and Light, said good public policy has brought down the price of wind and solar, but they're still not accessible enough.

"The perception and reality of clean energy is that it's something for rich people,” Benson said. "Credit score or income levels ought not to be a barrier to getting everyone involved in clean energy."

Benson said anyone who gets their power from Xcel Energy and lives in one of eleven southern Minnesota counties can sign up for the co-op.

Faith communities have been key in spreading the word about the new solar gardens. Rev. Tom Harries leads a congregation in St. Peter. He said parishioners and clergy of many faiths are concerned about climate change.

"We talk about the world as God's creation, and therefore we want to treat it with respect and care,” Harries said. "And now the question is, what are the specific things we can do?"

Harries said faith leaders can work on systemic changes that make clean energy more affordable, and individuals can sign up to use solar power.

Susan Jameson, who lives in Mankato, learned about Cooperative Energy Futures in her church bulletin, and is among the first subscribers.

"It's such a huge thing. When you read about climate change and all the things that are happening in the world, it's a little overwhelming as an individual,” Jameson said. "I can't do anything big, other than recycling. So I just felt like this was another small step that I could do."

The Southern Community Solar Gardens will power nearly 1,000 homes and should be operational by early next year.

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