SC 2.0 Northern Minnesota


In 2020, Solar Commons Project researchers began forming community partnerships to build the second US Solar Commons. In this endeavor our aim is to build a 500kW array that would be hosted by our partner, solar manufacturing firm, Heliene, Inc located in a rural, northern region of Minnesota. This Solar Commons would reduce Co2 emissions by 6,500 metric tons and create around $70,000 a year for its social trust fund which would go to support a local beneficiary program run by the Bois Forte Food Sovereignty Group (BFFSG). BFFSG is building a local, healthy food system for the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa community. Solar Commons Project researchers are currently seeking funders for this “living lab” which would be the test site for the Solar Commons Toolkit digital dashboard, local governance and trust protector standards work.

Summer 2021: What We’re Doing

As a foundational part of building trust and partnerships for the Northland Solar Commons, Solar Commons researchers are engaged in several activities. We are raising funds for the Bois Forte Food Sovereignty Group to gather baseline information on food sovereignty needs in their community. BFFSG has proposed that a Food Sovereignty Coordinator be hired to gather and assess knowledge from community members through surveys, talking circles and elder conversations. This community research will provide BFFSG with a clearer picture of the local needs and traditional skills and foodways to be supported over time by a Solar Commons trust fund. This knowledge will further support the work of the living lab in co-designing, with BFFSG and indigenous anchor organizations doing food sovereignty work in Minnesota, the trust agreement and peer governance tools that will best serve the goals of BFFSG.

Solar Commons researchers have also put together a legal team that can serve local indigenous interests despite the ownership framework given by settler society trust law. Treaty rights and indigenous values and worldviews of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa will need to be specifically called out in their Solar Commons trust agreement. Legal terminology that originated in the common law of feudal England must be carefully reframed to meet the needs and protect the treaty rights and interests of the Bois Forte tribal community. For this work we are joined by Doug Thompson, attorney and Professor of tribal governance at University of Minnesota Duluth.

The Solar Commons team has gathered partners to begin preliminary design work on the digital tools–dashboard, database, governing software–that our living lab will co-design and test with BFFSG and indigenous anchor community groups. Peer governance of BFFSG’s social wealth fund will include the indigenous beneficiaries, trustees and trust protector. These trust law functions must be crafted to work for BFFSG’s aims over a twenty-five year period. To this end, a general business plan for a community kitchen, or other mode of serving the community’s food sovereignty needs, needs to drawn up. General rules that will allow the beneficiary community to govern their assets and make changes as they deem needed over time must be creatively and flexibly built into the trust agreement. A Solar Commons Trust Agreement is a tool for commoning. As BFFSG defines what commoning is for their community, the living lab research team will respond with design ideas and prototypes to be tested together over a period of three years. These prototypes will also serve as general frameworks for co-designing the next Solar Commons project in Minnesota.

Finally, in addition to preparing the cultural, ecological, legal and computer science groundwork for the Northland Solar Commons living lab, our researchers are actively seeking funding partners for the installation of a turn-key 500kW Solar Commons array. Our host partner, Heliene, Inc., and our chosen solar installer, Impact Power Solutions, are working with our team of legal and engineering experts to put together the budget, timeline and Solar Commons Donation Agreement that will assure funders of a secure investment in furthering the Solar Commons concept and serving the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa’s community health work. The principles that guide Solar Commons research include repair of the world and tool-making for the gift economy. We seek support from those whose missions overlap with ours and with our community partners empowering the indigenous peoples on treaty lands of Northern Minnesota.

Interested parties should contact the Director of the Solar Commons Research Project, Prof. Kathryn Milun at 218-726-7071.

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