I was blessed to grow up on the banks of the Blue Earth River on a small farm in southern Minnesota. Experiencing nature firsthand while catching frogs, fishing for bullheads and many other opportunities created a deep and reverent respect for the wonderful natural world God has left in our care. That love led me to seek ways to do what I can to protect nature and eventually a career teaching others how to care for creation.
Along that path, I have learned that one of the biggest impacts we have on all living things that depend on a healthy earth, including us, are our choices related to energy. Daily headlines about melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels, polluted air, toxic algae in drinking water and oil spills highlight the impacts of our past energy choices. Made up primarily of burning fossil fuels, they have led to a warming earth and changing climate that will have consequences for generations.
While the news can be depressing, there is hope and opportunity in our community in the form of solar energy. Minnesota has no coal, oil, or gas, but we have lots of sun. Thirteen billion dollars leave our state each year to bring us dirty energy according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, which threatens our clean water, lakes and forests. All that money could be invested locally in clean energy.
We have an amazing opportunity in our area to reduce our impact on the environment by supporting solar energy. Community leaders, Mahtomedi Area Green Initiative, Conservation Minnesota and Solar United Neighbors have partnered to create a program for local residents to purchase solar. If you have ever thought about getting solar energy on your rooftop, there has never been a better time.
We are coordinating a process in the Mahtomedi and White Bear Lake area for residents and small business owners to purchase solar installations at a reduced price by joining a “solar cooperative.” Our first information meeting was held in Mahtomedi last month and was attended by over 30 area residents. A second meeting will be held at White Bear Lake City Hall council chambers on Thursday, July 12 at 6:30 p.m.
When we have at least 30 homeowners or small businesses from the area willing to consider a new solar energy system as a “cooperative,” the nonprofit Solar United Neighbors will work with us to put out a collective request for proposals to all solar energy installers in the region. Solar businesses will then submit their bids in response, likely at a sizable discount since they will have a group of ready and serious customers in the cooperative. A committee of the co-op participants will review and select the installer that best suits their collective needs. The participants will get a reduced price and customized bids on a solar installation. It is not until that time that participants have to make a commitment to purchase. Up to that point, interested homeowners can pursue information obligation-free and can join the cooperative by signing up at www.solarunitedneighbors.org/mahtomedi. By clicking on the “join our co-op” link and filling out the form, you will get an initial free assessment to see if your home or property has enough sun to make it worthwhile.
Not only can you take a big step to reduce your impact on the environment with a solar energy system, but you may even save some money. Prices for solar energy have dropped significantly over the last few years to the point that most solar rooftop systems have a payback of 10 years or less. I hope you can join this effort, and I hope to see you at our solar cooperative information meeting at White Bear City Hall on July 12.
Jeff Ledermann is a co-founder of the Mahtomedi Area Green Initiative and created the Eco Experience at the Minnesota State Fair.