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Duluth to get its first community solar garden, promising cheaper energy bills

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Duluth residents will soon be able to benefit from renewable energy in the same way those in the Twin Cities can, after the announcement the city will be getting its first community solar garden next year.

Minnesota Power, which provides electricity to 144,000 homes in the north of the state, announced Friday it will build a 40-kilowatt solar array on lands it owns on Arrowhead Road in Duluth, and a separate 1-megawatt array on another plot of land in northeastern Minnesota.

Solar gardens are designed to give people living in urban areas the chance to benefit from the cheaper costs of solar power generation without having to install expensive panels on their property, or who live in apartments with no space to fit a panel.

They have been springing up around the Twin Cities over the past two years, after Xcel Energy was given the OK by state lawmakers to launch its "Solar Rewards Community" project, which sees companies build solar gardens and sell the power to Xcel, which passes on discounts to customers.

Margaret Hodnik, Vice President of regulatory and legislative affairs at Minnesota Power, said the company has noticed growing demand for renewable energy sources from people in the Northland area.

"Our program will provide convenient choices for people who want to go solar but who either rent or don’t have a home or business site that is well-suited to generating electricity from the sun," she said.

The utility said the new arrays will help it achieve the energy standards set by Minnesota's Legislature that demand 1.5 percent of energy companies' retail sales come from solar energy resources by 2020, with 10 percent of that to come from "smallscale" projects such as solar gardens.

Minnesota Power customers can subscribe to the solar garden project either by making a one-off, up-front payment, enrolling on a fixed monthly subscription, or pay a fixed charge per kilowatt-hour.

In exchange, they will receive a monthly energy credit based on their subscription.

The project has the backing of Duluth Mayor Don Ness.

"Community solar gardens, like the one proposed by Minnesota Power, are an ever-expanding opportunity to broaden the accessibility of solar energy and reduce a local community’s reliance on fossil-based fuels," he said.

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