Solar Energy in Minnesota

  1. I see more and more these being promoted, what are Community Solar Gardens?
  2. How does solar power work?
  3. Is Minnesota a good resource for solar energy?
  4. Are Minnesota’s utilities pursuing solar projects?
  5. Is there a solar mandate in Minnesota?
  6. Which companies must meet the Solar Energy Standard (SES)?
  7. Solar power is expected to significantly grow in the next 5 – 10 years. What does that mean to utilities and their customers?
  8. I’ve heard the term “Net Metering” when talking about solar energy. What is that?
  9. Additional Resources

1. I see more and more these being promoted, what are Community Solar Gardens?

Minnesota has become a leader in the development of Community Solar Gardens.

Community Solar Gardens

  • Built by a developer who recruits subscribers and sets the contract terms.
  • Open to all customers, including: businesses, nonprofit organizations, homeowners and renters within a local community.
  • Gardens, limited to one MW in size, connect to the power grid and deliver energy to the Utility.
  • Subscribers receive a bill credit, based on their share of the garden’s energy output.
  • The Utility recovers the cost of these credits from all customers,  through monthly utility bills.

 

 

 

2. How does solar power work?

The sun’s energy can be used to produce electricity, either through photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight directly into electricity or by solar thermal collectors that heat fluid, which is used to warm water and convert it to steam to run a generator.

3. Is Minnesota a good resource for solar energy?

Minnesota currently ranks 17th in solar energy production even with our modest level of potential.

4. Are Minnesota’s utilities pursuing solar projects?

Yes, the offer a variety of opportunities for their customers as well as establishing their own solar projects.

 

Xcel Energy is among the top-ten U.S. utilities for the amount of solar power on their systems, as determined by the Solar Electric Power Association.  Xcel has several solar programs:

            Solar Rewards program to offer customers incentives to install rooftop solar panels for their homes and businesses.

Solar*Rewards®Community® began accepting applications from garden operators interested in developing solar projects under the program. Xcel Energy customers subscribe directly with garden operators to purchase or lease portions of solar garden projects. They expect Minnesota’s first solar gardens to be online by mid-2015.

 

In addition to Minnesota Power’s SolarSense rebate program for their customers, Minnesota Power has announced their intent to build a 10 mw solar energy project at Camp Ripley, MN.

5. Is there a solar mandate in Minnesota?

Yes, in 2013, the Minnesota Legislature established a Solar Energy Standard (SES) requiring public utilities to obtain at least 1.5 percent of their total Minnesota retail sales from solar energy by the end of 2020. At least 10 percent of this energy must be generated by facilities with a capacity of 20 kilowatts or less.

These public utilities must comply with the solar standard in addition to fulfilling the existing Renewable Energy Standard, which requires that at least 20 percent of electricity sales originate from renewable energy sources by 2020, and 25 percent by 2025 (for Xcel Energy, these percentages are 25 and 30, respectively.).

6. Which companies must meet the Solar Energy Standard (SES)?

All of Minnesota’s investor-owned electric utilities must meet the mandate:  Minnesota Power, Ottertail Power Company, and Xcel Energy.

Minnesota’s electric cooperative and municipal utilities are excluded from the mandate.  The SES excludes retail sales to customers that are iron mining extraction and processing facilities, or paper mills, wood products manufacturers, sawmills, or oriented strand board manufacturers from the calculation of 1.5 percent of retail sales.

7. Solar power is expected to significantly grow in the next 5 – 10 years. What does that mean to utilities and their customers?

As the solar industry grows, policy makers must ensure that energy policies that encourage solar development must work for everyone. All utility customers should be treated equally and fairly, whether they are a customer who chooses to invest in solar power or not.

8. I’ve heard the term “Net Metering” when talking about solar energy. What is that?

Net metering is the method used to determine how customers with solar panels are compensated for the energy their systems produce. It was originally designed as an incentive to encourage the early adoption of rooftop solar and to grow a fledgling industry. As panel prices drop and more customers install solar, there have been growing concerns with the effect of net metering on non-solar customers. While customers with rooftop solar still use and rely on the electric grid, they avoid paying for its upkeep under net metering—and those costs are unfairly shifted to non-solar customers.