Crystal Bay Township (Finland, MN) was recently given an award by the Minnesota Department of Commerce and Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) for having the most installed solar photo-voltaic (PV) per person in the continental United States. There are a variety of factors contributing to the high amount of solar panels in the Township:
1. Wolf Ridge’s commitment to sustainability, including recent construction projects and newly installed solar.
2. Crystal Bay Township government’s commitment to sustainability, including solar PV at the Clair Nelson Center and the Finland Fire Hall.
3. Many township residents’ decisions to live off the grid due to personal choice or lack of infrastructure in more remote areas of the Township.
4. Many residents’ commitment to sustainability by choosing to install grid-tied solar PV at their homes.
The Township plans to put up a highway sign noting that this is a clean energy community, possibly even a solar-powered sign. In order to retain the title of most installed solar per capita, we need to install more in the coming years. For that eventual growth to occur, solar power needs to get less expensive. While solar power has gotten more affordable in recent years, it remains financially challenging for many people. Because it pays for itself over time, construction loans are available from local banks. However, it is very difficult for low-income people to access these loans. Other obstacles are few local installers and logistics of some home sites. There’s a learning curve here; it’s unfamiliar technology for many people.
With our 283 watts of PV installed per person, we have more installed than all of the country except Hawaii, which has twice as many PV installed per-person as we do. We are the champs of the continental USA! This can change rapidly as PV is being installed constantly all over the country. If we are to maintain champion status, we need to keep adding more solar panels.
To facilitate this growth, our Township has advocated for the Lake County Commissioners to consider adopting the Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) option. PACE is a new channel to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades for buildings of commercial property owners. This would make possible energy-saving measures to be pursued by businesses. Those eligible receive project financing that is repaid as a separate item on their property tax assessment for a set period. PACE eliminates the burden of upfront costs by providing low-cost, long-term financing.
Our Township recently requested on behalf of homeowners to be included in the SolSmart, an opportunity for Minnesota Local Governments to unlock the economic development benefits of solar energy. Through SolSmart, a national program, our township will get FREE technical assistance from national solar experts to address local barriers to solar energy development. We will see what we can learn to help us make solar installs more accessible, efficient, and affordable.
Some ideas to be explored include building a Community Solar Garden for those of us with limited solar access (trees shading our homes etc.) and limited time and money but interested in solar technology for our homes. All of this gives us greater opportunities to power our homes, businesses, and community with US made energy while reducing our impact on our environment.
We can find opportunities to learn more about solar and other renewable energy options through evening programs, workshops and community conversations around maintaining our champion status by installing more solar PV in our community. At least for now, we can really be proud of our accomplishments in regards to energy conservation, ecological and sustainable buildings and of our solar installations here in the north woods.