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Co-Ops Add Competition To Solar Energy Market

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Solar energy is getting more popular in Minnesota, and so are the ways consumers pay for it.

Minnesota's Department of Commerce compares the Twin Cities to cities like Jacksonville, Florida or Houston, Texas when it comes to solar potential, one major component being the amount of sunshine in the metro area.

Solar panel installation usually costs around $15,000 up front, but the state's co-ops aim to save consumers 10 to 30 percent of that.

People join one of Minnesota's six solar co-ops for free in six different communities, including Minneapolis and Bemidji.

Each group within the co-op needs to get to 30 households, and once it does, the group sends a request out to nearby companies. The companies bid, effectively giving the group a bulk rate.

The 30+ homeowners will then pick their favorite bidder and installation will happen from there.

"There's a lot of different financing options that are available, but it is an upfront purchase that pays off over time," Solar United Neighbors Program Director Virginia Rutter said. "We usually see it pay back within six, 10, 12 years. And then the systems last at least for 25 so you're seeing significant savings over that time frame."

The downside is it takes a long time from the point consumers decide to join a co-op to about 10 to 12 months later, when the installation is complete.

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