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Solar firm announces major project to give Twin Cities renters cheaper energy

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A market-leading solar power company has announced it will spend $200 million on a community solar garden project in Minnesota.

California-based SolarCity will build and operate 100 solar gardens on the fringes of the Twin Cities in conjunction with Minnetonka-based Sunrise Energy Ventures, the Star Tribune reports.

Many of these gardens will generate energy to sell to metro area apartment dwellers who can't otherwise enjoy the cheaper benefits of solar power.

"It enables us to provide clean, cheaper energy to renters," Lynton Rive, CEO of Solar City, told the newspaper. "The product will be available ... to schools, hospitals, businesses and homeowners, but ideally we will get as many renters as possible."

The Business Journal reports that 40 of the 100 1-megawatt gardens – located in Wright and Sherburne counties – will be reserved for renters and other residential customers. They'll generate enough power to reduce the bills of 600,000 apartment residents.

It's the latest solar power company to join a statewide project that allows Xcel Energy's 1.2 million Minnesota customers to subscribe to community solar gardens, with the output from these gardens sold to Xcel and in turn used to reduce subscribers' utility bills.

Interest in solar garden project growing

Last week, SunShare announced a deal with the City of Cologne, Minn., that will see all of the city's buildings and municipal services run on solar power.

SunShare has gone further this week, announcing it will build more community solar gardens in Minnesota, albeit on a smaller scale to Solar City's, with around 5,000 properties expected to benefit, according to a press release.

Last month, the Pioneer Press reported that Edina-based Geronimo Energy was given the green light to build solar gardens on the same scale as Solar City – with 100MW in total being generated, albeit over 16 counties instead of Solar City's two.

The Star Tribune adds that California-based SunEdison and Chicago's SoCore Energy have also entered the Minnesota market since the solar garden project was authorized in 2013.

The newspaper notes that the future of SolarCity's project in its current form will depend on a ruling by the Public Utilities Commission next week, after Xcel complained of companies clustering solar gardens in one location, rather than spreading them out across the state.

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