U professor nurtures neighborhood solar garden

Julia Nerbonne leads a program that will connect people in North Mpls. to a shared energy source.

by Eliana Schreiber

Residents in North Minneapolis could soon use communal solar panels to power their homes.
To help grow renewable energy sources, University fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology Professor Julia Nerbonne  leads a program that creates shared community “solar gardens” for area neighborhoods.
The program, called Just Community Solar Coalition, combines issues of racial, economic and environmental issues of injustice by making solar energy accessible to everyone, said Clair Curran, Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light campaign coordinator.
The initiative is operated through the MNIPL, a group that connects church congregations to address climate change.
A lot of religious communities don’t see the connection between climate change and other major issues, Curran said, so MNIPL facilitates conversations to educate people about how environmental issues relate to faith. 
“What we’ve seen in a lot of faith communities is that people really care about hunger or poverty or war … and then they see climate change as … something else at the bottom of their list,” Curran said.
MNIPL also allows people from different faiths to work together in fighting environmental issues, MNIPL Research and Outreach Coordinator Muhammad Jiwa said.
Jiwa works with a Muslim leaders group in local Minneapolis neighborhoods that gives members a chance to discuss problems and current events in the Muslim community.
Many cultures and traditions within religions call for stewardship of the Earth and parallel each other by emphasizing respecting others and the world, Jiwa said.
Because of that, Jiwa said he doesn’t see religion and science as two entirely separate concepts.
“It is a very powerful time in history right now, where faith has a huge impact on people’s lives,” Jiwa said. “So as people of faith … what does your faith ask of you to do environmentally?”
In 2013, Minnesota passed a community solar law that permits people to use nearby solar panels, allowing access to solar power they might not otherwise have, Nerbonne said.
As part of the legislation, Xcel Energy is required use energy produced by solar developers on their grid along with other forms of power. 
The company then has the electricity distributed to people who have enrolled in the solar garden program.
“The bottom line is that we … are trying to push the market and push the policy makers when they create the rules about the post-coal … system,” Nerbonne said, talking about traditional fossil fuel sources.
As more companies begin to transition away from fossil fuels, experts say tapping into alternative energy sources is imperative.