A Major Leap Forward on Solar Energy

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Solar Bill Will Expand Solar Access with more than 30-fold Increase in Solar by 2020

Environment Minnesota

St Paul, MN – Last night, the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill requiring 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. 

“Solar energy represents a vast untapped reserve of pollution-free energy that has no fuel costs,” said Samantha Chadwick of Environment Minnesota. “Our state leaders should be commended for recognizing the environmental and economic benefits capturing the heat and power of the sun. By setting bold, achievable goals and working together to reach them, we can accelerate to a cleaner energy future.”  

Three years ago, Environment Minnesota helped form Solar Works for MN; a coalition that has grown to a broad coalition of more than 150 environmental groups, civic organizations, labor unions and businesses. The coalition is united around a goal of getting 10 percent of Minnesota’s power from solar by 2030. This year, Environment Minnesota became a member of the Clean Energy and Jobs Campaign, a new coalition formed to promote the same solar goals as well as an expansion of wind power and energy efficiency.

“Over the past three years, we’ve spoken to tens of thousands of Minnesotans about solar energy,” said Chadwick. “Citizens love it because it’s clean, local and because it is a potent symbol for a smarter, cleaner energy future. This bill gives solar the boost it needs just at the right time and will go a long way to expanding access to solar for homes, businesses and local governments.”

Last year, Gov. Mark Dayton embraced the 10 percent goal, and in his State of the State address, called for legislators to pass policy establishing a cleaner, more sustainable energy future. This session, Rep. Will Morgan and Sen. Chris Eaton introduced the Solar Energy Jobs Act, which was included in the Omnibus Energy package and shepherded through the committee process by Rep. Melissa Hortman and Sen. John Marty.

The bill’s central requirement — that all investor owned utilities get 1.5 percent of their electricity from solar– is estimated to expand solar from today’s 13 MW of solar to 450 MW by 2020. The bill also:

  • Establishes a goal of reaching 10 percent solar by 2030.
  • 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 saving’s 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

The bills at one point also included a provision that would have increased Minnesota’s Renewable Energy Standard (currently 25 percent by 2025) to 40 percent by 2030. Ultimately, the Legislature opted not to expand the RES this year. “We still have much work to do to meet our energy and environmental challenges with efficient, clean and renewable energy,” said Chadwick. “But this bill takes us takes us a few major steps forward.”