Duluth Minnesota’s Lincoln Park neighborhood has 6,000 residents, most of whom have a household income of less than $35,000 a year. To support economic stability and energy resilience in this neighborhood, local nonprofit Ecolibrium3 collaborated with community and state partners, including the Minnesota Department of Commerce (Commerce) and Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) to construct a 38 kW community solar garden and start The Resilience Hub.
“These partnerships provided technical assistance, community outreach, visioning, and project funding,” said Gabe Epstein, project associate with the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA).
Both projects represent the state’s push to include low and medium-income customers in its community solar program. Minnesota has constructed more than 826 MW of PV systems across 400 sites to accommodate over 28,000 residents since the program’s launch in 2013.
Community solar gardens (CSGs) are solar installations where customers subscribe for a share of the electricity produced to help offset their energy use and save on their monthly utility bills.
Since launching in 2020, Duluth’s CSG has generated 135 MWh of electricity and earned $13,000 through net metering. This popular program allows owners of commercial and residential PV systems to sell excess electricity back into the grid.
The Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV) and Community Energy Fund generated 34 MWh or $2,972 and 102 MWh or $8,915, respectively, to make up the project’s kWh and monetary value since its launch.
Ecolibrium3 (ECo3) will allocate 75% of energy savings to an ECo3 Energy Fund for low-income families with emergency bill payments and home weatherization or energy-efficient appliance costs. The remaining 25% of energy generated will power the Duluth Veteran’s Place.
It’s important to note that the dollar values are slightly below 25% and 75% of the total income generated because ECo3 keeps about 10% to cover operational costs.
Grants and donations funded the $209,000 array while land was donated from the City of Duluth, which still owns it. The garden was constructed on Lake Superior, also the entrance to the Lincoln Park neighborhood from downtown.
A case study by CESA found 27% of 18- to 64-year-olds in Lincoln Park have a disability. In comparison, 71% of residents reported a lack of affordable housing and 41% of people in the neighborhood experience barriers to getting food. The Resilience Hub, part of the larger ECo3 project, aims to address this and other community-reported challenges.
The concept was created by the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) which defines Resilience Hubs as “community-serving facilities augmented to support residents and coordinate resource distribution and services before during and/or after a natural hazard event,” said Epstein.
The Lincoln Park Resilience Hub houses ECo3’s office and includes a warming center to protect people from extreme cold. Epstein reports it will soon have a cooling center providing an escape from heat waves. There will also be a computer lab and workforce development training space as well as a commercial kitchen for aspiring entrepreneurs. There will be a grocery store and transportation access close by too.
“Ecolibrium3 hopes to add solar arrays and battery storage eventually,” said Epstein.
CESA will host a webinar on July 27 where Eco3 Founder and CEO Jodi Slick will discuss this project and what was learned.
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