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Minnesota Developer Sues for Solar Garden Permit

RED WING, Minn. (CN) – A solar development firm sued a small Minnesota town over its refusal to allow the company to build a community solar-energy garden based on ambiguous requirements in a zoning ordinance.

GreenMark LLC filed a lawsuit against Wacouta Township in Goodhue County District Court on Friday, claiming the municipality has blocked its plans to build a five mega-watt, 28-acre solar garden.

“GreenMark’s planned community solar garden will discontinue peat mining and hay farming disturbances to the wetlands on the property and will incorporate more modern agricultural and land preservation practices. It will also result in reducing carbon emissions compared to coal-fired power generation,” according to the complaint. “It is estimated that GreenMark’s proposed project for the property will reduce carbon emissions equivalent to 500 passenger plane rides from London to New York City per year.”

The company says it contracted with a local family to lease the Goodhue County project site, conditioned upon land use and other approvals needed to build the solar energy system.

GreenMark partners with companies to develop sustainable business practices. On the line is its $900,000 deposit paid to Xcel Energy to allow the connection of its solar garden to Xcel’s power grid.

GreenMark says it has obtained all legally necessary land use approvals, but a conditional use permit, or CUP, is still at the center of its dispute with Wacouta.

“The township denied GreenMark’s CUP application by applying an undefined and ambiguous CUP provision that restricts commercial and industrial uses in agricultural districts to those ‘primarily intended to serve the agricultural community,’” the lawsuit states.

The term “agricultural community” is not defined in the ordinance so the township’s attorney drafted possible definitions for the planning commission and town board to choose from, according to the complaint. Read more

Mountain Iron solar company among last in Minnesota

Martin Pochtaruk is trying to succeed where few others have — making solar panels in North America and making money doing it.

U.S. and Canadian photovoltaic panel makers have dropped in recent months like flowers wilting in the sun. Mountain Iron's Silicon Energy left town at the end of April — its parent company dissolved. In the Twin Cities, tenKsolar closed in May after employing as many as 90 people in recent years. In St. Paul, Simple Ray Solar LLC closed after less than a year assembling solar panels.

Nationally, big solar panel makers like Mission Solar, SunPower, First Solar, Sungevity, Beamreach and SunEdison have closed, filed for bankruptcy or both. Read more

Minnesota moving up in rankings for solar energy

Minnesota’s national ranking for solar energy capacity has climbed significantly after a flurry of new projects have come online.

During the first quarter, the state ranked fourth nationally for new solar power installations compared with the same period a year ago, according to data released Thursday by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a trade group.

The state added 140 megawatts of solar power capacity in the quarter, continuing a growth spurt that started in last year’s fourth quarter and reflects long-planned developments being switched on.

A megawatt is 1 million watts, and Minnesota had solar projects up and running by the end of March with 431.6 megawatts of cumulative production capacity, ranking it 16th in the nation for total capacity, according to SEIA. Minnesota also was 16th at the end of last year, a big improvement over its ranking of 29th at the beginning of 2016.

“Minnesota is clearly a leader in the Midwest,” said Sean Gallagher, SEIA’s vice president for state affairs. The Midwest, though, is a relative laggard compared to much of the country. Read more

Minnesota Power proposes next step in EnergyForward plan

DULUTH, Minn. – Minnesota Power, a utility division of ALLETE (NYSE:ALE), today announced the next step in its EnergyForward strategy for ensuring a safe, reliable and competitive energy supply for customers and the region. If approved by regulators, the resource package coupled with the company’s existing renewable resources will result in renewable resources providing 44 percent of the company’s energy supply by 2025, further reducing carbon emissions while keeping rates affordable.
In an upcoming filing with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC), Minnesota Power will request the addition of 250 megawatts of wind power capacity, an additional 10 megawatts of solar power and 250 megawatts of combined-cycle natural gas generation to meet customer demand for power, which is projected to grow throughout the region. The new resources will increase the company’s already robust wind portfolio of 620 megawatts and double its solar generation.
“For the past four years, EnergyForward has been exceeding expectations for how an energy company can transform the way it produces and delivers energy,” said Brad Oachs, president of Regulated Operations. “We look forward to working with our customers and regulators to continue down the path toward a safe, reliable, cleaner and affordable energy future.” Read more

Minnesota joins 'Climate Alliance' to uphold Paris pact

Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday joined a group of governors who are committing their states to upholding the Paris climate deal's emissions cuts despite President Trump's decision last week to withdraw the U.S. from the pact.

Organized as the U.S. Climate Alliance, member states aim to reduce emissions by at least 26 percent from 2005 levels and meet the federal Clean Power Plan targets.

"President Trump's withdrawal will cause serious damage to our environment and our economy," Dayton said in a statement. "Nevertheless, Minnesota and other states will show the world what we can achieve by working together to conserve energy, to use cleaner and renewable energy, and to leave a livable planet to our children and grandchildren." Read more

After Trump announcement, Minnesota will proceed with its own climate change strategy

No matter the Paris Climate Agreement, Minnesota officials said Thursday that the state’s march to reducing greenhouse gas emissions will go on.

With a plan adopted in 2007, the state has been a national leader in pursuing an aggressive plan to reduce emissions of the chemicals that cause climate change. And though Minnesota has missed its targets in recent years, President Trump’s controversial decision to pull the United States out of the global climate deal struck last year won’t change what has been slow and steady progress, state environmental officials said Thursday. The president’s decision does, however, put future climate change leadership squarely in the hands of state and local governments rather than in Washington, D.C.

“As damaging as this decision will be, it will not deter our efforts here in ­Minnesota,” said Gov. Mark Dayton, echoing the reaction of many of the state’s elected officials. “We will show the world what we can achieve by working together to conserve energy, to use cleaner and renewable energy, and to leave a livable planet to our children and grandchildren.” Read more

Minnesota to Receive $47M from Volkswagen Settlement, Asks Public How to Spend It

Here's something you don't hear everyday: the state of Minnesota is getting an unexpected $47 million, and officials are looking for ways to spend it.

The extra money is part of the fallout from Volkswagen's massive emissions scandal, which first broke in 2015. Dubbed the "diesel dupe," it came to light that certain Volkswagen diesels sold in the U.S. had special systems designed to beat emissions tests. Eventually, the company reached a nearly $15 billion environmental settlement with the federal government and, as part of that, the German automaker is required to pay nearly $3 billion to states where the cars were being driven. Read more

Xcel says company-wide carbon emissions down drastically since 2005

Across Xcel Energy Inc.’s eight-state service territory, the Minneapolis-based utility cut carbon emissions by 30 percent between 2005 and 2016, the company said Tuesday.

The company (NYSE: XEL) said in its Corporate Responsibility Report that it expects to cut carbon emissions by 45 percent, compared to 2005, by 2021. Read more

Minnesota's solar energy subsidies look to be on their way out

A popular rooftop solar energy subsidy would be killed by legislation heading to Gov. Mark Dayton, though a smaller amount of money would continue to flow to another solar program that is less lucrative for consumers.

The solar subsidy actions, part of an omnibus jobs and energy bill, disappointed clean energy advocates but satisfied critics who say Made in Minnesota is too costly.

The program has doled out $15 million annually since 2014, subsidizing homeowners, businesses and nonprofits — as well as Minnesota’s handful of solar panel manufacturers. Panels must be assembled in Minnesota to qualify.

Made in Minnesota, created to last through 2024, has funded 1,105 solar arrays during its first three years. In February, 679 more Made in Minnesota solar grants were approved by the state Department of Commerce, the program’s administrator. Read more

Otter Tail Power Company received Bemidji Business of the Year Award

On May 25 the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce presented Otter Tail Power Company with the Business of the Year Award. The Chamber of Commerce’s annual Awards of Excellence Luncheon recognizes and celebrates small businesses for their achievements and contributions to the Bemidji area economy.

In presenting the award to Otter Tail Power Company Area Manager Leon Kremeier, Bemidji State University Assistant Professor Dr. Kelly La Venture praised the company’s local efforts. “They’ve participated in highly collaborative community efforts, such as the installation of the electric vehicle charging stations,” said La Venture. “Their employees participate on city council, school boards, and other local boards and are involved with fire departments, youth sports, and more. Otter Tail Power Company puts their values into action." Read more