Minnesota Poised for Huge Growth in Solar Power

Environment Minnesota

Albert Lea, MN – At a press conference at Riverland Community College campus today, Environment Minnesota Research & Policy Center released Lighting the Way: What We Can Learn from America’s Top 12 Solar States, a new report highlighting a solar energy boom across the country. The report outlines the twelve states that have made a considerable contribution to the nation’s rise in solar power. Minnesota received “honorable mention” in the report, singled out for recently passed solar policies that will bring about a dramatic increase in solar in the coming years.

“The progress of other states should give us the confidence that we can do much more here in Minnesota” said Samantha Chadwick, Advocate with Environment Minnesota. “And thankfully, Minnesota has recently enacted many of the policies recommended in this report, so we’re well poised for a big expansion of clean, renewable solar power in the next few years. The message of this report is clear: If you want your state to be a leader in pollution-free solar energy, set big goals and get good policies on the books.”

Solar is on the rise across the country. America has more than three times as much solar photovoltaic capacity as it did in 2010, and more than 10 times as much as it did in 2007. And now the price of solar panels fell by 26 percent in 2012. Environment Minnesota attributed the solar boom to the leadership of state officials, especially those in states profiled in the report.

Solar has the potential to benefit communities across Minnesota, like those served by Novel Energy Solutions in Rochester. Cliff Kaehler, an installer with the company, said “with the advancements in solar, we are now able to offer many of our customers solar arrays with a payback time of under 5 years. A few years ago that wasn’t possible, and now farmers and business owners can keep these energy savings dollars local, which helps rural economies and family farmers.”

“More and more, homes and businesses are turning to solar as a pollution-free energy source with no fuel costs,” said Chadwick “And with the increasing threats from global warming, Minnesota must become a leading solar state. Minnesota’s clean energy policies put us in a good spot not only to increase renewable energy, but to meet local and national climate goals, especially with the Obama administrations’ recent announcement on limiting pollution from coal-fired power plants.”

The report emphasizes that it is not availability of sunlight that makes states solar leaders, but the degree to which state and local governments have created effective public policy for the development of the solar industry.

The “dazzling dozen” ranked states in the report include Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina and Vermont. While these 12 states account for only 28 percent of the U.S. population, they make up 85 percent of the nation’s installed solar energy.

The report highlights the strong policies adopted by the top solar states that encourage homeowners and businesses to “go solar.” Most notably:

  • 11 of the 12 have strong net metering policies, which allow customers to offset their electric bills with onsite solar and receive reliable and fair compensation for the excess electricity they provide to the grid.
  • 11 of the 12 states have renewable electricity standards, requiring utilities to provide a minimum amount of their power from renewable sources; and nine of them have solar standards, which set specific targets for solar or other forms of clean onsite power.
  • 10 of the 12 have strong statewide interconnection policies. Interconnection policies reduce the time and hassle required for individuals and companies to connect solar energy systems to the grid.
  • The majority of the top solar states allow for creative financing options such as third-party power purchase agreements and property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing.

In May, the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill that will lead to a more than 30-fold increase in solar power by the end of the decade. The bill establishes a solar standard that would require investor owned utilities to provide 1.5 percent of the state’s power from solar energy by 2020. The bill also sets a goal of getting 10 percent of Minnesota’s electricity from the sun by 2030 and includes other measures that will help lay the groundwork for a very significant expansion of solar energy, including:

  • Requires 10 percent of the solar standard be met by small solar projects (less than 20 kw), in order to serve residential and small business customers
  • Raises the customer net-metering cap to 1 MW for investor-owned utilities; and provides new protections for customers
  • Requires Xcel energy to establish a Community-Shared Solar program allowing customers to pool their resources and invest in a solar project together and have a portion of the solar project’s power credited to their bill. It authorizes other utilities to develop similar programs
  • Establishes a Value of Solar Tariff, which would establish a price for solar that assesses the overall value of solar, making solar projects easier to finance. Minnesota is among the first states in the country to adopt a statewide rate paying solar its worth
  • Improves the PACE financing program to help businesses invest in energy improvements including on-site renewable energy
  • Establishes new solar incentives to expand access to rooftop solar for residents
  • Commissions a one year study of the transmission and grid options for getting 40 percent of our state’s electricity from renewable energy in 2030.
  • Increases the utility energy savings goal to “at least” 1.5 percent of energy sales annually and requires utilities to consider all cost-effective energy efficiency over other energy options 

“Right now only a small fraction of our energy comes from solar; about 13 megawatts,” concluded Chadwick. “By setting a bold goal of getting 10 percent of our energy from the sun by 2030 and adopting strong policies to back up that goal, Minnesota is working to follow in the footsteps of the top solar states and start paving the way for the rest of the country as well. We want to thank Governor Dayton, Representative Hortman, Senator Marty, and other leaders who worked to pass the clean energy bill this year, and we’ll need to keep working with them to achieve the goals, as we continue to need the commitment from all our state leaders to grow solar development across Minnesota.”