“It’s great to be with folks who are facing similar challenges and want to make our community better.”
SCCA Member: Jim Welna, Welna II Hardware

Rooftop Solar at ‘The Cooperage’ Senior Housing

By Renee Spillum, Project Manager at Redesign

Photo courtesy of Buzz Buskirk, Novel Energy Solutions

Photo courtesy of Buzz Buskirk, Novel Energy Solutions

The Cooperage is 60 units of new low-income senior housing one block south of the Franklin LRT station on the bike path that runs along the Blue Line. The 4-story building was completed and occupied in the fall of 2014 as part of the Seward Commons redevelopment project that Redesign has been working on for years. The HUD financing requires that residents pay 30% of their incomes toward rent and utilities, which means that use of solar power unfortunately cannot translate into direct savings to tenants. However, eliminating a monthly electric bill for the building frees up operating funds that benefit the project and the tenants in other ways.

The Cooperage was a challenging solar project for SCCA and Redesign, project partners along with CommonBond Communities and Novel Energy Solutions. This system was awarded rebates from the Made in Minnesota program, and would have been eligible for federal tax credits. However, after several weeks of looking at creative solutions it was determined that neither benefit could be utilized, as they interfered with the overall financing for the project, which includes a sophisticated tax credit syndication company and highly regulated federal funds.

We did work to identify a way to help tenants to benefit directly from the solar power, by using a community solar subscription model and interconnecting all sixty unit electrical meters to the system. This effort was ultimately abandoned due to financing restrictions. With the house meter being the only one connected to the system, we had to downgrade the size of the array slightly so as to not produce more electricity over a year of operations than the meter was expected to use. Again because of financing restrictions, the building is unable to receive credit payments from Xcel for power it produces but does not use, as this is considered a “commercial source of income” for the project, which is not allowed.

Despite this series of setbacks, the project was on budget, which left a contingency that could be spent on any number of “wish list” upgrades. Solar made it to the top of the list because of the associated reduction in operating costs – a big deal for this type of project which faces restrictive budget regulation. That means that an appropriately sized system of 77 panels that produces 31.57 kilowatts of energy was installed, paid for fully in cash, with100% of the electricity savings going to the project.

This building was an ideal case study for how solar power can work in the affordable housing world – a challenge that very few buildings in the state have managed to solve, and a new model that we believe we can encourage future projects to adopt.

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