Due largely to projects in Minnesota, community solar garden developer SunShare said this week that it’s reached a milestone.
The company has developed 77 community solar gardens that together have the capacity to produce up to 105 megawatts of electricity, passing the 100-megawatt mark. (A megawatt is one million watts). Together, SunShare’s community solar projects have 8,300 subscribers.
Denver-based SunShare specializes in community solar gardens, which usually run in size from 1 to 5 megawatts compared to large utility-scale projects that sometimes have the capacity to produce 100 megawatts electricity at one site.
Minnesota has the nation’s largest community solar garden program. SunShare’s projects are primarily in Minnesota and Colorado, but mostly in the former. “Colorado opened before Minnesota, but the program there is much smaller,” said David Amster-Olszewski, SunShare’s founder and CEO.
The Minnesota legislature established the community solar garden program in 2013, though it really didn’t get going until the second half of 2016. As of Jan. 1, there were 169 community solar gardens in Minnesota with a total capacity of 505 megawatts, according to Xcel Energy.
Community solar gardens are aimed at residents, businesses and governments that want solar energy without setting up their own panels. They are developed, marketed and owned by independent energy companies. Xcel buys power from solar gardens and administers the program.
While Minnesota’s market still has room to grow, other states have more recently created community solar garden programs. “The biggest growth markets right now are Illinois, New York and New Jersey,” said Amster-Olszewski.