Granite Falls residents worried about rising utility bills or the impact their carbon footprint is having on the environment now have a new energy alternative. R4 Solar is a community solar project developed by the Central Municipal Power Agency/ Services (CMPAS - pronounced ‘compass’) offered to local residents by the Central Municipal Power Community Services (CMPCS) division.

Starting last month, residents have the option of purchasing solar energy as part of their normal utility bill from the city. With energy markets undergoing profound changes over the last decade, City Administrator Crystal Johnson felt it was important to “provide another green energy option to residents.”

Instead of installing individualized solar panels on homes and business, R4 Solar insteads leverages the whole community by using off-site solar panels and economies of scale. Customers purchase solar ‘panels’ at locked in at an annual rate of $42.50. Instead of accessing the solar energy directly, customers receive credits which they can then use to offset their normal energy usage.

The actual value of the energy credit varies depending on overall energy production and the energy market price. In 2016, each kilowatt hour (kWh) had a credit value of about $0.06. Because each panel produces roughly 500 kWh per year, the annual estimated credit offset for one panel subscription is $30.

To offset 100% of their energy usage, customers would have to purchase about 18 panels (which is equivalent to about 9,144 kWh - the average energy consumed by Minnesota residential customers). There is a great deal of flexibility, and residents can purchase the number of panels that makes the most sense for their budgets.

While some hesitate to pay more for their utility bill, proponents of community solar argue that their model offers more price stability than conventional carbon sources. According to CMPAS, the average wholesale price per kWh has held steady in the $0.04 - 0.06/kWh range, protecting customers from any future price increase.

Environmental stewardship, however, usually ranks as the primary reason why a resident might buy into the program. According to CMPAS, “For every solar subscribed kilowatt-hour, the local municipal utility purchased one less kilowatt-hour from conventional fuel resources in the energy market.” Johnson also said that because homeowners don’t own or operate the solar panels themselves, R4 Solar “provides an option to easily reduce the carbon footprint associated with electric consumption.”

Granite Falls residents who are interested in participating in the program, or who have additional questions, are encouraged to contact the city directly.