Lissa Pawlisch, statewide director of the Clean Energy Resource Teams, has been tracking community solar development in Minnesota closely. (Photo by CERTs via Creative Commons)
The shape of what might be called the community solar garden industry in Minnesota has begun to form.
Many of the state’s power cooperatives already have solar gardens up and running or being actively marketed. Xcel Energy’s Solar Rewards Community Program received more than 400 applications totaling 420 megawatts in the first week its program opened, about four times the most optimistic projections suggested.
Many of those proposals involve large installations that get around a 1 megawatt restriction on solar gardens by placing several of them together on one site. Xcel complained to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission last week that developers are proposing projects 10 times the limit and using the program to skirt regulations intended for large projects.
©2015 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Manuel Quiñones
Numerous industry and environmental interests are weighing in on high-profile federal litigation over the legality of what is widely known as Minnesota’s anti-coal law.
Last year, a federal judge said the Next Generation Energy Act ran afoul of the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause — which gives the federal government power to regulate interstate commerce — by restricting the purchase of carbon-intensive energy from other states.
Neighboring North Dakota, which mines coal and is reliant on the fuel for power generation, sued Minnesota in 2011 over the law. It said Minnesota’s law would, in effect, regulate its own generating portfolio (Greenwire, April 21, 2014).
While solar energy is sometimes thought of as only accessible to wealthy homeowners, a recently announced solar project, if approved, will benefit some of Minnesota’s poorest residents.
The St. Paul Public Housing Agency will be the main subscriber for a proposed $40 million community solar garden project that will be built by Geronimo Energy just outside the Twin Cities.
Under a pending agreement the housing agency would buy enough solar energy from a proposed solar garden to offset 85 percent of the electric consumption of 16 residential high rises housing more than 2,550 low income residents, many of them senior citizens. In addition, the agency’s headquarters would be covered by the agreement.
A recent national report places Minnesota among leading states in moving utilities toward a future with more distributed energy resources and greater consumer choices.
GTM Research’s “Regulating the Utility of the Future: Implications for the Grid Edge” looks at four other states in addition to Minnesota – California, Massachusetts, New York and Hawaii. Written by consultant Bentham Paulos, the report focuses mainly on regulatory changes in each state that may open the door for business opportunities for grid companies.
The attention is warranted. Minnesota has several efforts underway now at the Legislature to encourage regulatory transformation and greater distributed energy.
A rural Minnesota co-op is offering customers who participate in a demand-response program a hard-to-beat deal on community solar.
Customers of Steele-Waseca Cooperative Electric (SWCE) who want to own a photovoltaic panel in a community solar garden and add a new electric water heater to their homes can have both for just $170.
Minnesota would see more than $6.2 billion in capital investments if the state raised its renewable energy standard (RES) to 40 percent by 2030, according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Meanwhile, the change would have a minimal impact on ratepayers, the UCS says.
Currently the state’s policy calls for 25 percent of energy to come from renewable sources by 2025. With Minnesota receiving 19 percent of its energy from renewable sources today, the prospect of increasing the goal to 40 percent has gotten the attention of policy groups and lawmakers.
Great River Energy’s headquarters northwest of Minneapolis has a solar array and wind turbine, but the co-op remains more coal-dependent than other utilities. (Photo courtesy Great River Energy)
More than a year after being criticized by state regulators for being too coal-dependent, a Minnesota energy provider is taking another run at planning for a lower-carbon future.
In July 2013 the five-member Minnesota Public Utilities Commission took the unprecedented move of rejecting a long-range integrated resource plan submitted by Great River Energy due to its reliance on coal-fired energy generation.
The 3-2 vote led GRE to formulate some new strategies in a second version of the resource plan — that details energy consumption and generation for the next 15 years — that was submitted last October. The new plan calls for faster depreciation of two coal-fired plants, an end to a contract with an aging Wisconsin coal-based facility, increased conservation measures and more renewable energy.
“We looked carefully at the language of the order, and we think the commission will find it very acceptable this year,” said David Saggau, chief executive officer and president. “This is a plan our members feel comfortable with and they like the balance we’re striking. They’re very realistic about the transition that’s occurring in our industry and they like the steps that we are taking to address future resource needs.”
SunShare LLC has announced a strategic alliance with Minneapolis-based Mortenson Construction to develop solar gardens in Minnesota.
SunShare, which has offices in Minneapolis and Denver, has become one of Colorado’s leading solar garden promoters since that state passed a 2010 law allowing for their development.
Mortenson is a family-owned construction company that manages a variety of projects locally and throughout the country, among them the new Minnesota Vikings stadium, the Denver Art Center, The Walker Art Center and many others.
SunShare will develop, finance, own, operate and market the projects. The collaboration gives SunShare “a badge of creditability in that one of the largest construction companies in America is signing on to work with us in Minnesota,” said Jonathan W. Postal, senior vice president. “It’s just a great opportunity for Sunshare as we pivot from just the Colorado market to the Minnesota market.”
Peter Lindstrom, mayor of Falcon Heights, Minnesota, is promoting a new state efficiency program.
For two years, the Minnesota Department of Commerce has been showcasing a new approach to financing state and municipal sustainability projects around the state.
Called the Guaranteed Energy Savings Program (GESP), the concept offers organizations a way to reduce energy costs and use the savings to help pay for projects. The state created documents to help agencies and municipalities manage the program, which involves an “Energy Services Company” that develops, installs, and provides financial assistance for the projects.
It’s not an easy concept to explain even to large agencies, much less city officials. Helping to attract municipalities to the program is now the job of Peter Lindstrom, 43, former assistant director of Science Technology and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Lindstrom in November joined the Clean Energy Resources Teams (CERTs) as the GESP outreach coordinator to counties, cities and schools. He is also the mayor of Falcon Heights (pop. 5,300), where since taking office in 2007 he made the small community just outside St. Paul into one of the most sustainable in the state.
Minnesota Rep. Pat Garofalo attends a hearing of the House Energy Committee in March 2014. (AP Photo/ The Star Tribune, Glen Stubbe)
Veteran Republican lawmaker Pat Garofalo has been driving to the Minnesota State Capitol and his private sector job in style in his Tesla Model S, which he purchased in November.
Electric cars are “where the future is,” Garofalo said. “Electric cars allow people to be in charge of their fuel bill and that money stays 100 percent in the local utility market. It’s about having better performance, being in charge of your own energy bill — if that’s not good enough for you, it’s also a lot better for the environment.”
The 43-year-old suburban legislator, who also works as a voice and network engineering consultant, won’t disclose the cost of his Tesla, which retails from $70,000 to $93,000. It replaces a more modest 2007 Ford Fusion as his primary means of transportation.