Solar panel sales open to businesses

The solar panels are up on Connexus Energy’s Ramsey campus and will be producing electricity for the general public within a month after final testing is complete, according to a company spokesperson.

All 792 solar panels are up on the Bunker Lake Boulevard side of Connexus Energy’s Ramsey campus. Final testing is underway and electrical output to customers is slated to begin in September.

All 792 solar panels are up on the Bunker Lake Boulevard side of Connexus Energy’s Ramsey campus. Final testing is underway and electrical output to customers is slated to begin in September. Photo by Eric Hagen

As of Monday afternoon, Aug. 4, Connexus has leased 50 panels to 25 households, according to Don Haller, Connexus’ vice president of member services.

An area the size of a football field on the Bunker Lake Boulevard side of its campus has 792 solar panels, which are each being leased for $950. Either party can cancel the agreement  before the 20-year lease ends but not without a payout or finding a new Connexus Energy customer to take over the lease.

Within the last week, Haller said Connexus Energy has decided to lift previous restrictions that it only sell to residential customers and it not sell more than six panels per household.

Haller said this decision was “100 percent driven by demand.” Several businesses have inquired about buying panels.

“Solar is solar. The output is indifferent whether it is for residential or commercial,” Haller said.

Only a couple of households have been interested in leasing more than six panels, Haller said, but Connexus leaders now feel that households should be able to lease enough solar panels to power their whole house if they want to.

Connexus is holding a public meeting on its Ramsey campus, 14601 Ramsey Blvd., at 6:30 p.m. next Tuesday, Aug. 12. It will hold another meeting on the National Sports Center campus in Blaine on Tuesday, Sept. 16, also starting at 6:30 p.m. The specific meeting location at the sports center has not been set. Those interested in attending should contact Connexus Energy to RSVP at either 763-323-2600 or info@connexusenergy.com.

When asked if sales are slower than anticipated, Haller responded, “From a true marketing standpoint, we’ve been at this 30 to 45 days and we’ve had 200 interested people contact us. I think that’s good. This isn’t a two-month process. It could take two years to sell out the panels. All in all, it’s gone fairly well.”

The 792 solar panels will have a total output of 245 kilowatts. The SolarWise project is expected to be the largest cooperative solar project in the state of Minnesota, Haller said. The project got off the ground thanks to a $370,000 investment by Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange, which will be eligible for a tax credit and will own the system for six years before Connexus Energy takes over ownership, according to Haller.

Haller and Mike Bash, chief financial officer of Connexus, said the SolarWise project was set up in a way that only those leasing solar panels would pay for this project and not other customers who do not buy into the system. Instead of home and business owners needing to install panels on their own property and deal with any maintenance headaches, the $950 per panel fee covers the construction and maintenance costs for a 20-year period. There are no annual fees.

In return for leasing one or more solar panels, Connexus Energy gives a credit on the monthly bill based on the amount of electricity the panel produced. Connexus calculated that the monthly output per panel would average 34 killowatt-hours.

These solar panel renters would be subject to the same rate increases as everyone else, but as rates increase, the monthly rebate becomes more valuable, Haller said.

The payout period is difficult to predict, but it would likely take well over a decade to break even on that $950 investment. Bash said if Connexus electric rates increased 3 percent annually, it could take 16 years to earn back the $950. If rates increased 5 percent per year, payback is 14 years.

Eric Hagen is at
eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

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