News Column

Bills Would Expand Minn. Solar Electricity

March 6, 2013

John Myers, Duluth News Tribune

Solar cell (file photo)
Solar cell (file photo)

Solar-powered electricity would increase in Minnesota -- in size and number of installations -- under legislation introduced at the Capitol and supported Tuesday by the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

The bills would amend Minnesota's 30-year-old law limiting solar units that are tied into utility grids to 40 kilowatts and expand the limit to 1,000 kW, or 1 megawatt. Provisions also would expand opportunities for small businesses to install solar projects and would set minimum standards for utilities to meet on how much of their electricity comes from solar.

The bills also would allow a third party to finance solar projects as an investment, a move that has spurred increased solar generation in other states. State law now prohibits third-party investment.

The legislation calls for a specified percentage of electric utilities' total retail sales to be generated by solar energy by 2016, 2020 and 2025.

Several of the provisions are supported by clean energy and environmental groups as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota while growing jobs in the state to create energy locally rather than importing it from other nations or states. The group Minnesota 2020 in Duluth last month heralded the same proposals.

House File 956 and Senate File 901 are sponsored by Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, and Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, chairs of the House and Senate energy policy committees.

"This clean-energy legislation will help move Minnesota forward to generate more solar and wind energy," Mike Rothman, commerce commissioner, said in a statement. "It will allow more opportunities for businesses to offset their energy use with renewable energy generated on-site. This bill will help create more clean-energy jobs, diversify the resources used to meet our energy needs and provide a long-term policy signal to develop a stable solar market in Minnesota."

The state agency's public support signals Gov. Mark Dayton's support as well.

Minnesota was the first state to establish a net-metering standard in 1983. The current net-metering law provides a 40-kW limit on net-metered systems. But Rothman said increasing the limit to 1,000 kW would increase renewable-energy projects by larger energy-use customers, such as bigger businesses, which could offset large percentages for all of their electricity use.

Utilities have opposed large-scale solar expansion in the past, saying the electrical grid couldn't handle hundreds more small sources of electrical generation. Duluth-based Minnesota Power also said that forcing them to buy extra electricity from small solar providers could raise the price of electricity for its customers.

"Minnesota Power is already moving forward with its resource strategy to provide a more diverse, sustainable energy mix. We do not favor additional mandates that may compromise the reliable and affordable energy our customers expect," Amy Rutledge, Minnesota Power spokesman, told the News Tribune, noting the utility already is on track to increase renewable energy. "Net metering involves subsidies, whereas MP can provide that energy at a significantly lower price than the net metered subsidized price. We continue to evaluate solar. But we have not yet found it to be economical to pursue a utility scale commercial operation."

Source: (c)2013 the Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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