Diversity-driven coalition in Minnesota looks to expand solar power access

Minnesota map outline

Amber Naqvi, being passionate about solar energy, installed a rooftop solar array on his home in Eagan, Minn., in 2017. Since then, Naqvi has been thrilled to see huge growth throughout the industry in Minnesota and nationally. However, this expansion didn’t go far enough.   

“I noticed that many communities with arrays on their homes were not only white but usually the more affluent,” explains Naqvi, who decided to do something about it. Working with Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light (MNIPL), Naqvi created a unique program to make solar available to small businesses and nonprofits in historically underserved areas of Minneapolis. Naqvi and MNIPL have assisted twelve clients to receive City of Minneapolis Green Cost Share incentives. Six of those clients will have completed solar arrays this year, and expected to double that number in 2022. 

“Programs that pair investors with clients for solar are not uncommon,” said Buff Grace, MNIPL’s Solar Director.  “But this program is unique in focusing on small clients that most investors skip over. You have to have a justice-minded partner like Mr. Naqvi to make these happen.” 

Working with MN350’s green new deal team, MNIPL found clients able to benefit. At no cost they receive a rooftop solar array and a 5% discount on their  Xcel electric bill. After 10 years, the clients become the owner of the array and receive its full electrical production.  

Liberty Community Church of North Minneapolis saw the potential benefit immediately, and signed up for two arrays, one on each of its campus locations. Liberty Community Church is An African American congregation with a focus on healing trauma through community. The church was eager to see their solar array not only used as an energy source but also as an educational tool and opportunity for further community growth and healing.

“We are grateful for this gift and meaningful investment in our community,” Rev. Dr. Ralph Galloway said. “As people of color of African descent, we have always treasured the earth; our cultural practices celebrate and activate sustainable practices. This collaboration is a beautiful testament to the power of community.” 

In addition to the arrays on Liberty Community Church’s two locations in North Minneapolis, Lake Street Solar also completed installations at CTUL; Thee House UV Beth-El Church; Lundstrom Center for the Performing Arts and Woodland Stoves. 

“Installing solar panels on these organizations will lower energy costs, allow for businesses to focus their financial resources elsewhere, and after ten years would turn into an asset they own for the rest of the panel’s lifecycle – roughly 20 years,” Naqvi said. “Solar has been seen as a privilege reserved for affluent communities when it should be looked at as a tool to provide a more equitable and just future for everyone.” 

“Solar energy is crucial to the world ending fossil fuels and averting climate disaster,” said Grace, “but it is equally critical that we transform unjust economic and social structures that have been unfair to BIPOC communities.  We can do both together, and this program proves that.”   

Naqvi also wants to see more diversity and inclusion within the solar industry itself which is why he partnered with Go Solar, one of Minnesota’s only solar installation and construction companies run by a person of color, Joaquin “JT” Thomas. “Not only was it critical to me to see different populations benefiting from solar but I also wanted to put my money where my mouth was and ensure that at every opportunity I was investing in communities of color,” Naqvi said.

Liberty Community Church, with MNIPL and Naqvi, are planning a larger public event in the spring to continue the conversation around the benefits of solar within their community and share more information on the project’s success. 

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