A new solar garden lights the way for this Minnesota neighborhood

Duluth gets its first community-owned solar project in Lincoln Park to benefit disadvantaged families and Veterans

A new garden in town is providing energy to community members in Duluth, MN—but it’s not produced through photosynthesis.

The Lincoln Park Solar Garden is a 40-kilowatt solar array project by Ecolibrium3. The non-profit group in Duluth operates in the low-income Lincoln Park neighborhood to lead and inspire change towards an equitable and sustainable future.

“We’re not only making this site one to produce solar power in, but also a site to welcome community members to,” said Lucas Giese, AmeriCorps VISTA Program Coordinator with Ecolibrium3. “The energy produced supports our Veterans, as well as low-income families who are facing utility disconnection in the area.”

Ecolibrium3 also works with AmeriCorps VISTA members to promote energy efficiency, community development and anti-poverty in The Northland Region of Minnesota.

About 75% of the power generated by the solar garden is added to an Emergency Energy Fund operated by Ecolibrium3, which offers one-time financial assistance to Duluth families in crisis. The other 25% offers the value of renewable energy generated to The Duluth Veterans’ Place, a project by the Minnesota Assistance Council of Veterans (MAC-V), allowing them to spend more on veteran programs and services versus energy bills.

Like a traditional garden, the yields of the Lincoln Park Solar project benefit numerous community members and stakeholders.

“The project does address high energy (cost) burdens in the central Duluth and Lincoln Park area, and connects residents to other energy efficiency resources, but the community benefits really complete the vision,” says Giese. “The most rewarding part is watching diverse partners come together to achieve a common goal in addressing community needs and preserving low-income households.”

Enbridge has a history of supporting the Lincoln Park Solar Garden. We gave $25,000 to Ecolibrium3 in 2019 to support the design and development of the solar array. In 2020, we donated another $15,000 to help fund construction changes as part of our commitment to improving lives in communities near our operations and projects, including the Line 3 Replacement Project across northern Minnesota.

A virtual celebration marked the “plugging in” of the solar garden last fall, with dozens of residents and community members recognizing the new beautification at the entrance of their neighborhood either at the open house event or via a screen.

But the work from Ecolibrium3 certainly did not stop there. The group is “always up to something,” such as connecting people to food resources during COVID-19 and teaming up with local businesses to get essential PPE to nearby hospitals.

“We are constantly looking for the next opportunity to fill the community need where we find it,” says Giese.

The completion of the solar array illustrates one of many steps in the revitalization efforts of the Lincoln Park community.

“Now that this is complete, we’re moving forward with a community engagement process to talk about what other amenities the community could benefit from,” says Giese. “We have dreams of everything from educational signage to art installations and community pride-building projects.”