Hundreds of solar panels glitter on the rooftop of North High School, ready to power, and empower, a neighborhood.
The first subscribers are signing up for a stake in this solar garden — and signing on to a vision of north Minneapolis as a hub for clean energy and green jobs. The North High Community Solar Garden will power the school and challenge the perception that green energy is is a luxury reserved for Tesla drivers.
"It's just a small piece of power you take back," Elijah "EJ" Easley, an artist, educator and community activist, explained to residents who gathered at the Northside Healing Space this week to learn more about the project.
For generations, the people in power dumped their garbage, routed their highways and raised their smokestacks in north Minneapolis, fouling the air and soil.
Against that backdrop, a community solar garden becomes more than just a chance to reduce your carbon footprint or knock a few dollars off your electric bill.
This is about power. Clean, renewable power that Xcel buys from you, instead of the other way around. Power from solar arrays built by North Side residents, trained at North Side job sites, for local, minority-owned energy companies.
"We can create a democratized, renewable energy system that we benefit from, not just Xcel," said Kyle Samejima, executive director of Minneapolis Climate Action.
This week's event, hosted by Minneapolis Climate Action and Renewable Energy Partners, was open to anyone who pays their own electric bill. But this project – one of hundreds of solar gardens blooming across the state – is for, and focused on, the North Side.
"My favorite thing about north Minneapolis is the people in north Minneapolis," said Easley, a third-generation graduate of North High who learned how to build a solar panel in class his freshman year.
"There are a lot of people who have opinions about people in north Minneapolis," he added. "But when you're here, you know we move on and we push forward and we do what we have to do … The people in this community care about the people in this community."
And one way to show you care about the community, organizers suggested, is to invest in its cleaner, greener future.
When you subscribe to a solar garden, you pay for a share, or multiple shares, of the array. The garden's solar panels distribute electricity to the grid. The more electricity your share of the project generates, the bigger the credit you get off your next utility bill.
The North High project is designed to make solar accessible. Subscribers can pay as they go and get out of the contract if they need to. The project, which is backed by the city, comes with a guarantee that subscribers will always save more money on their electric bills than they pay for their share of the rooftop solar grid.
"I'm trying to do my part on climate change. We're all trying. We're moving at the speed of light," said Akisha Everett of the North Side-based solar developer Renewable Energy Partners.
Everett bought shares in a different North Side solar garden a few years ago — enough to cover 120% of her monthly utility bill. She estimates that she hasn't owed money on an electric bill in about two years. Some months, Xcel has to pay her.
"You're the utility now," she said. "You're selling that power to Xcel."
Solar panels are popping up on the rooftops of churches, schools, office buildings and fire houses across Minneapolis. The biggest challenge Renewable Energy Partners faces right now is finding enough trained workers to keep up with demand. The company is offering free scholarships to workers willing to take weekend classes — spread across several months — to learn how.
"This is how much they need solar installers," she said. "These are good jobs. Livable wage jobs."
There are more than 900 solar panels on the roof of North High, divided into 365 shares. Some of them will go to the school and the city. The project has 25 confirmed subscriptions. If you're interested in subscribing before the solar farm plugs into the grid this summer, visit mplsclimate.org.
To learn more about community solar gardens and what consumers should know before they sign up, visit the Minnesota Department of Commerce community solar site.