Tri-County Community Action Partnership (TCC Action) created a novel approach to assist local veterans with disabilities with their energy costs – a community solar garden.
“We have a significant military presence with Camp Ripley nearby, so it just made sense to serve those veterans living with low incomes and disabilities in the area to pay for their energy,” said Mike Becker, the weatherization and housing programs director for TCC Action, which serves Crow Wing, Morrison and Todd counties. “Many are on fixed incomes so this is a great way to get their bills down, maybe to nothing, and maybe even provide some extra income.”
TCC Action partnered with RREAL (Rural Renewable Energy Alliance) to build the solar garden on TCC’s property with funding and assistance from Minnesota Power, Initiative Foundation, Morrison County Veterans Association, Region Five Development Commission, Werner Electric, and Braun Intertech. The first phase of the solar project was completed at the end of 2019 but then had to pause in 2020 because of COVID-19. With a second grant, TCC Action was able to more than double the size of the solar garden in November and now hopes the 45-kilowatt array can serve about 16 clients, Becker said.
They are in the process now of reaching out to potential clients. Clients need to be low-income, currently receiving energy assistance and a Minnesota Power customer. The participating clients will get quarterly dispersements from Minnesota Power based on the solar garden’s output. Becker added that TCC Action also plans to work with the clients to weatherize their homes, via the Weatherization Assistance Program, over the coming year for more energy efficiency and cost savings.
“A Community Action Agency using solar (to help with clients’ energy costs) is certainly unique,” said John Vaughn, executive director of RREAL – a nonprofit whose goal is to use solar to reduce poverty. “We have done similar projects with Tribes.”