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Xcel's solar garden program passes milestone: 40 projects online

Xcel Energy announced Wednesday that 40 community solar gardens are up and running, passing the 100-megawatt threshold for electricity production.

The Community Solar Garden program was created by the legislature and launched in 2014. It’s aimed at bringing solar energy to residents and businesses who don’t want the expense and complications of building their own solar arrays.

The program got off to a slow start, delayed by a flood of applications and disputes between Xcel and solar developers. Xcel had once projected that 200 megawatts of solar garden power would be online by the end of 2016. Instead, only around 50 megawatts were running. (A megawatt is one million watts). Read more

Exclusive: EPA to propose repealing Obama's climate regulation

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will propose repealing the Clean Power Plan - the Obama administration’s centerpiece regulation to fight climate change - and plans to solicit input on a rule to replace it, according to an EPA document seen by Reuters.

The decision marks the agency’s first formal step to sweep away the rule intended to cut carbon emissions from power plants, after President Donald Trump signed an executive order in March launching the EPA’s review. Read more

Solar energy is fastest growing source of power

A report shows that solar energy was the fastest-growing source of power last year, accounting for almost two-thirds of net new capacity globally.

The International Energy Agency said Wednesday that the rise was due to a boom in photovoltaic panel installations, particularly in China, thanks to a drop in costs and greater support from governments.

It is the first time that solar energy growth surpasses any other fuel as a source of power. Coal in particular had continued to grow in recent years despite global targets to reduce carbon emissions. Read more

Xcel Energy Announces Plans to Achieve Nation-Leading Wind Energy Milestone by 2021

Xcel Energy announced plans today to build and own a new 300-megawatt wind farm in South Dakota, adding to the company’s nation-leading wind expansion strategy. This project puts Xcel Energy on pace to be the first utility in the nation to surpass 10,000 megawatts of wind on its system, which would be more than enough clean energy to power every home in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The Dakota Range I and II project, developed by Apex Clean Energy, is the first publicly announced wind project to advance under the phase down of federal tax credits. Even without full tax credit, the project’s cost is low enough to compete with other fuel sources, an investment that is expected to lower customer bills over the project’s life.

“This is a milestone for our industry and our customers,” said Ben Fowke, chairman, president and CEO. “Wind provides the clean, competitively priced energy our customers want. This project proves we can keep driving the clean energy transition of our supply mix while keeping customer bills low, even as incentives phase out.” Read more

Report: Minnesota on track to hit Paris climate goals

Minnesota and 13 other states appear on target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the amount set in the Paris climate accord.

Their progress comes despite President Trump abandoning the global environmental agreement in June.

Shortly after Trump pulled the U.S. from the Paris deal, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton joined onto the U.S. Climate Alliance, whose members include 14 states and Puerto Rico. Read more

2 Upper Midwest neighbors appear headed for divorce

Citing divergent energy policy priorities among two Upper Midwest neighbors, Xcel Energy Inc. is looking to legally separate its electric utility operations in Minnesota and North Dakota after more than a century operating as a combined system.

The Minneapolis-based utility notified its preference to form a separate North Dakota distribution utility — a process it warned that would take several years and cost millions of dollars.

North Dakota regulators have contracted with a consulting firm to help analyze the proposal as well as a number of other Xcel Energy projects, and they've referred the case to an administrative law judge.

The state Public Service Commission's advocacy staff is expected to submit testimony by Oct. 1, under a procedural schedule agreed to by the parties. A decision is expected by mid-2018. Read more

Solar Developers Hoard Panels as U.S. Tariff Threat Looms

Solar developers are suspending construction as the looming threat of U.S. import tariffs has driven up prices and spurred hoarding, crimping panel supplies.

“We’ve had roughly $500 million worth of work that we’ve had to put on hold,” said Scott Canada, who oversees renewable energy projects for McCarthy Building Cos. of St. Louis. “The supply of panels has just evaporated as everybody is grabbing what they can.”

The disruptions date to about May, after bankrupt panel manufacturer Suniva Inc. filed a trade complaint asking for protection from cheap imports. As the case gained steam, developers rushed to stockpile every available panel. The case is currently before the U.S. International Trade Commission and may eventually reach the Oval Office, where President Donald Trump has the authority to impose tariffs. Read more

Utility fee increase in Minneapolis could help fund efficiency, outreach

A small fee increase in a proposed Minneapolis city budget would raise millions to promote energy efficiency — and pay for itself many times over, according to advocates.

Released this week, the budget calls for a 0.5 percent franchise fee increase for all customers — residential, commercial and industrial — that would raise roughly $3 million annually, according to John Farrell, director of the Energy Democracy Initiative at the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Farrell, who is among those who proposed the idea, serves on the board of the Clean Energy Partnership, a unique collaboration between city officials and the two utilities which serve Minneapolis: Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy. Read more

Woodbury OKs solar garden, as long as nearby homes won’t see it

Minnesota-based solar energy developer GreenMark received the go-ahead from the Woodbury City Council to build a 3-megawatt solar garden in a rural-residential area of the city.

The approval however, came with an added condition to shield the solar panels from nearby houses.

The proposed facility would cover 17 acres of land off Military Road in Woodbury’s southwestern corner, operating on a 25-year lease with the landowners.

The council late last month approved terms of a permit, adding a requirement that GreenMark work with neighbors and city staff to reasonably ensure the 9-foot solar panels are not visible to neighbors. Read more

Minnesota leading the way for renewable energy grid batteries

Renewable energy is still a contentious subject in many parts of Minnesota, and across the country as well. The reliance on fossil fuels remains strong, and, even for those that support renewable energy and converting to renewables to meet our energy demands, the technology hasn’t quite made it as attractive, affordable, and efficient as it needs to be.

But this is changing. And quickly. Read more