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Minnesota reaches 300 MW of community solar (w/chart)

While many states have implemented community solar programs, Minnesota has been well and above the leader, by any metric. Despite a two-year delay between the launch of the program and the first projects going online, this month Minnesota reached 300 MW of community solar in the territory of Xcel Energy, according to data compiled by the Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR). Read more

Study: Renewable energy now Minnesota's 2nd-largest electricity source

Renewable energy is overtaking nuclear as Minnesota's second-largest source of electricity generation, while coal remains the largest source, according to a report released Thursday by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Coal made up 39 percent of the energy Minnesota generated inside its borders in 2017. That percentage is expected to go down dramatically in the next decade after Xcel Energy retires a large portion of its Sherco coal plant in Becker.

When hydroelectric was added to wind and solar generation in 2017, it surpassed what Xcel's two nuclear plants produced. And while nuclear capacity is static, Minnesota has been adding new wind and solar capacity every year.

"For renewables we do see significant plans by utilities such as Xcel to add to their renewable portfolio," said Rachel Luo, senior analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, who will present the findings to policymakers and others Thursday at an event at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Read more

Southern Minnesota joins new rebellion against wind energy that has stalled, stopped projects across U.S.

GLENVILLE, Minn. — Wind turbines have become as commonplace in parts of the rural Midwest as tree-sheltered farmhouses, gray-metal grain bins and deeply furrowed fields. The slowly spinning blades are a sign of investment in a region that often has few growth opportunities to brag about.

But when a developer sought to put up dozens more of the 400-foot towers in southern Minnesota, hundreds of people in the heart of wind country didn't celebrate. They fought back, going door-to-door to alert neighbors and circulating petitions to try to kill the project. They packed county board meetings, hired a lawyer and pleaded their case before state commissions. Read more

NextEra Energy Resources advances community solar in Minnesota

JUNO BEACH, Fla., Feb. 15, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, through an indirect, wholly owned subsidiary, today announced that during the previous four months, five new community solar gardens have been brought online in southeastern Minnesota. The solar-gardens are located as far north as Benton County and as far south as Dakota County, and are part of a larger Minnesota community solar-gardens portfolio totaling 66 MW including projects in development. This statewide effort brings clean, sustainable energy to all Xcel Energy customers, including subscribers who may participate in the community solar projects from within their "hosting" county or from adjacent counties.

"Community solar gardens represent a creative and efficient model for an electric company to meet its customers' and its own sustainability goals," said Matt Handel, vice president of development for NextEra Energy Resources. "For NextEra Energy Resources, these projects represent an initial portion of the solar gardens we plan to bring online this year."

"We recognize that our customers and communities want more renewable energy options," said Lee Gabler, senior director customer solutions, Xcel Energy. "A lot of effort has gone into making Solar*Rewards Community the nation's largest community solar program, and it's good to see that these NextEra gardens are now online and delivering clean, renewable energy."

Community solar gardens offer Xcel customers the opportunity to purchase subscriptions to a solar garden without having to install solar panels on their own property. Subscribers pay NextEra Energy Resources for their fixed share of solar energy production and continue to receive power from Xcel Energy, paying their utility bill as usual. They also may receive credits on their electric bill for the solar power produced that may exceed the price paid to NextEra Energy Resources, potentially reducing the subscriber's overall electricity cost. Current subscribers include Tennant Company, The Home Depot, University of Minnesota, and other commercial and government entities. Read more

Minnesota solar energy employment up almost 50 percent in 2017

Minnesota bucked the national trend in solar energy employment in 2017, posting the second highest job growth by state.

Nationwide, U.S. solar energy industry employment fell by 4 percent or 9,800 jobs, according to a report released Wednesday by The Solar Foundation. It was the first decline since The Solar Foundation began tracking jobs in 2010.

Total U.S. solar employment was 250,271 last year, with the majority of those jobs in installation. Read more

Minnesota's solar capacity on track to keep growing in 2018

Minnesota added enough solar panels in 2017 to power about 53,000 homes, and strong growth is expected to continue in the new year.

The state's overall capacity is now at more than 700 megawatts, according to the Minnesota Department of Commerce, which tracks solar installations.

"Our goal is to possibly reach a full gigawatt of solar in Minnesota by 2019," Commerce Commissioner Jessica Looman said.

A gigawatt is less than half the capacity of Minnesota's largest coal-fired power plant, the Sherburne County Generating Station, or Sherco. Power plants like Sherco have an advantage over solar because they can run continuously. Solar panels only produce energy at their full capacity when the sun is out.

Battery storage can help us use the sun's energy more effectively by saving it for when we really need it. Read more

Nuclear power is here to stay in Minnesota

The news has been increasingly bleak for U.S. nuclear power, replete with failed projects and proposed bailouts of unprofitable reactors.

In Minnesota, though, nuclear power is still a bedrock of the state’s electricity production, and it looks like it will stay that way until the 2030s.

For Xcel Energy, nuclear energy is critical to meeting its carbon reduction goals, particularly as it slowly jettisons its greenhouse-gas belching coal generators.

“Nuclear plays a huge role,” said Ben Fowke, CEO of Minneapolis-based Xcel, which owns the state’s three atomic power generators. “It will also increasingly play a major part in providing grid quality, which supports reliability.”

In other words, as Xcel in the 2020s moves from coal to wind and solar — which are inherently intermittent sources of electricity — nuclear will be a key source of “baseload,” or constant power. Read more

Sustainable: Planners charting Minnesota’s energy future

Energy generation from wind and solar has grown significantly in Minnesota. Utilities have announced the retirement of thousands of megawatts of coal plants in the next decade. Popular technologies such as electric vehicles, sophisticated thermostats, battery storage and rooftop solar hold great potential to produce cleaner energy. And they pose challenges to the electric grid.

Minnesota is entering a new era of energy production that promises to upend the traditional power grid in the same way the internet, the iPhone and deregulation transformed communications over the past 30 years. Read more

Tax overhaul breeds uncertainty for clean energy business

Lawyers and accountants in the renewable energy industry are poring over the details of the tax overhaul President Trump signed into law last week, trying to figure out what companies will lose or gain.

While key tax credits for clean energy were preserved under the new law, it's unknown how the industry will fare under the changes.

The initial good news that wind and solar tax credits are preserved in the law isn't the whole story, said Michael Noble, executive director of Fresh Energy, who has been following developments for the renewable energy sector.

"It's yet to be seen whether renewable energy tax credits are still going to be valuable and help projects get done," he said.

Minnesota utilities have been taking advantage of tax credits to expand wind and solar in the state. That growth is expected to continue in 2018 regardless of the tax bill because companies have been planning them for years. Read more

10 ways America's energy & climate world changed in 10 years

We've gone from an energy-scarce to an energy-abundant nation, and our climate debate has waxed and waned. Let's drill down on a decade's worth of changes.

What’s changed

1. The oil boom

America's oil production has nearly doubled over the last decade, and we became the world's biggest oil producer a few years ago, thanks to drilling technologies like fracking and horizontal drilling. This dynamic has complicated policies predicated on limited oil supplies, including a federal ethanol mandate and fuel-efficiency standards for cars.

On the geopolitical front, the U.S. is now becoming a swing producer alongside OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

2. The natural gas boom

America is now also the world's biggest natural-gas producer, with an increase of more than 30% in production since 2008. Former President Barack Obama's aggressive environmental agenda was made politically easier because plentiful supplies of cleaner burning gas enabled an affordable shift away from coal in the electric sector.

With exports of liquefied natural gas, the U.S. is also leading the way in stitching together a global natural gas market similar to the world's liquid oil market. Environmental concerns, including about fracking, an extraction technology that enables companies to reach new sources of oil and gas, have risen alongside economic gains of the oil and gas boom. Read more