(Photo by Melissa via Creative Commons)
Minnesota utility regulators on Thursday answered most but not all questions about the shape of a new community solar gardens program.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission indicated that it would reject a proposal by the state’s largest electric utility to limit the number of community solar gardens that can be installed per quarter.
The board also voted to set a higher rate for electricity purchased from the shared solar projects than the one originally sought by Xcel Energy, and it said the company must pay for renewable energy credits associated with the solar gardens.
After a full day of deliberations, the board adjourned until next week.
“What the commission has determined now is better than what Xcel proposed, but there’s still some concern about the level of uncertainty,” said Ken Bradley, CEO of MN Community Solar, one of the state’s first solar garden developers.
Peabody Energy’s headquarters in St. Louis. (Photo by tolkien1914 via Creative Commons)
A debate in Minnesota about the social and environmental costs of power plant pollution has caught the attention of the world’s largest private-sector coal company.
Peabody Energy wants a seat at the table as Minnesota prepares to update a two-decade-old figure that’s meant to help inform planning decisions about electricity generation in the state.
The coal giant said Tuesday in a petition to Minnesota utility regulators that the outcome of the case will affect its business, and that no one involved in the process is currently representing its interests.
(Photo by Michael Krigsman via Creative Commons)
After a three-year pilot program that won praise from state officials and environmental groups, Minnesota’s largest natural gas utility is proposing to walk away from a concept known as revenue decoupling.
CenterPoint Energy, which is in the midst of a contested rate case, said in a Jan. 31 regulatory filing that it will no longer seek approval for a permanent decoupling mechanism it proposed last summer.
That proposal faced opposition from the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, which argued that it would confuse customers and shift too many costs and risks onto residential and small business ratepayers.
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Solar installers, manufacturers, and suppliers added employees in the Midwest last year at a rate more than double the national average.
The solar industry now directly employs an estimated 17,044 people in the Midwest, according to the latest State Solar Jobs Census, released Tuesday by The Solar Foundation, a nonprofit research group. That’s a 51 percent increase from the 11,300 jobs it counted in the region in 2012.
Nationally, the number of solar jobs grew by almost 20 percent to an estimated 142,698, nearly half of which are located in Arizona, California, Massachusetts or New Jersey.
The foundation also took a more in-depth look at Minnesota’s solar industry so that it will have a baseline for evaluating the impact of that state’s recently passed solar policy, including a 1.5 percent solar mandate.
(Photo by Laura Gilmore via Creative Commons)
Starting in 2014, large commercial building owners in Minneapolis will be required to annually report data on their properties’ energy use to the city, which will make that information available to the public.
For many, meeting the requirement will be no big deal. Energy Star’s Portfolio Manager tool is already used to track energy consumption for about 40 percent of U.S. commercial building space.
But adding up energy use can be an administrative hassle for multi-tenant building owners, who may need signed waivers from every renter and manual calculations by their utility to reach a total.
The city of Minneapolis and the U.S. Department of Energy hope that won’t be the case for long.
Duluth, Minnesota’s steam plant, upper right, provides heat for much of the city’s downtown. (Photo by Nic McPhee via Creative Commons)
Since the 1930s, Duluth, Minnesota, has continually drawn frigid water from Lake Superior, heated it to steam in a coal-fired boiler, then pushed that steam through a network of pipes to provide heat for downtown businesses.
The district heating plant, by the city’s account, has been well maintained and extremely reliable over its 81 years of operation. The pipes are leakier and less insulated, but the system still works about the same as it did in 1932.
Which is to say, not very efficiently by today’s standards.
The city is now studying its options for modernizing the aging system to make it more flexible, economical and sustainable. A consultant’s master plan (pdf) presented Monday to the City Council recommends adding sawdust as a fuel source and converting steam lines into a more efficient, closed-loop hot water system.
“If we are going to own this, we are going to bring this steam plant into the 21st century,” David Montgomery, the city’s chief administrative officer, said in an interview. “We want to turn this into a real asset, which we think it can become, from an economic development standpoint … and from a sustainability standpoint.”
Manitoba Hydro’s Seven Sisters Dam. (Photo by Darren Fast via Creative Commons)
Norway has been called the “battery” of northern Europe because of its huge potential to store energy in its hydro power facilities, which produce virtually all of the country’s electricity.
When generation ramps up at Danish wind farms, Norway can slow production at its hydro facilities, storing water in reservoirs to be released later when electricity is in shorter supply.
As much as 40 percent of Danish wind power is “stored” like this behind Norwegian hydro dams, according to a 2012 paper by Norwegian energy economist Johannes Mauritzen.
In northern Minnesota, an electric utility is proposing a 500 kV, cross-border transmission line that would let it tap Canadian hydropower under a similar arrangement.
Minnesota Power says the Great Northern Transmission Line would allow it to balance intermittent power from its North Dakota wind farms with dispatchable power from Manitoba hydro facilities.
“I think we here at Minnesota Power have coupled together what I like to call the holy grail of renewable resources,” said Dave McMillan, the utility’s executive vice president.
(Photo by Mike Baker via Creative Commons)
As customers begin putting money down to join one of Minnesota’s first community solar gardens, new comments to state regulators reveal significant disagreements about how the program should work.
A new state law requires Xcel Energy to develop a program that will allow customers to buy shares of power produced at nearby solar installations, known as community solar gardens.
The idea is to make solar power accessible to the majority of Minnesotans who either don’t own their home or have a rooftop that isn’t sunny enough, strong enough, or angled correctly for installing solar panels.
Xcel unveiled its plan for the program on Sept. 30, and last week solar developers responded with several objections over proposed fees, rates and restrictions the utility would place on the projects.
MN Community Solar started accepting deposits a few weeks ago for a 40-kilowatt solar garden to be built on the roof of a south Minneapolis warehouse. But it expects it will have to refund that money if major changes aren’t made to Xcel’s proposal.
Solar panels at Gibbs Dairy near Altura, Minnesota. (Photo by Tim Gulden/CERTs via Creative Commons)
Karl Rábago could be called the grandfather of the value-of-solar tariff, but the concept is so new that “young parent” might be a more apt moniker.
The basic idea is that instead of paying customers with solar panels the retail electricity rate for their surplus power, utilities should pay a price that reflects the true value of solar to the grid. That could include added value for reducing congestion or generating during peak hours when power is most expensive.
Rábago helped develop the first value-of-solar tariff during his tenure as a municipal utility executive in Austin, Texas, which implemented the scheme just last year. Today, as an independent consultant, he travels around the country promoting and explaining the concept to others considering it.
Minnesota is the first state attempting to establish a value-of-solar tariff, and Rábago believes his baby is in good hands.
The state is about halfway through a months-long stakeholder process that will determine the guidelines for calculating solar’s value in the state.
“It reminds me of the way we did it first at Austin Energy, but even better,” Rábago said.
As a municipal utility executive in Austin, Texas, Karl Rábago led a team that came up with the very first value-of-solar tariff, an alternative to net-metering that aims to pay utility customers a rate for solar power that reflects its actual value to the grid and society.
Today, as an independent consultant, Rábago is the concept’s chief evangelist. He’s been hired by the Minnesota Department of Commerce to participate in a series of stakeholder workshops that will help the state set the rules for how value-of-solar tariffs should be calculated in Minnesota.
Here is a transcript of a conversation we had with Rábago last week, edited some for clarity and conciseness.
Midwest Energy News: Of all the discussions you’ve been involved in regarding the value of solar, how does this one stand out?
Rábago: It reminds me of the way we did it first at Austin Energy, but even better. When I first launched the value of solar concept, I did it from inside a utility. Utilities generally stay pretty close to the vest on things they’re working on. There’s a certain amount of nervousness or paranoia inside the utility culture. It’s the nature of the industry. But Austin Energy was a municipal utility so we built in from the start conversations with stakeholders and engagement with our policymakers.
In Minnesota, it’s been a public process from the very start. It’s been wonderful. My first visit up there as a consultant was just informational; sharing the experience and talking to groups; MnSIEA and utility people in very open discussions. The Department of Commerce has just set up this wonderful [process]. Everybody is being very forthcoming and honest and direct.