On Friday, December 12, Xcel Energy launched Solar*Rewards Community, Minnesota’s largest community solar program. A week later Xcel announced it had received proposals to build 427 solar gardens across 18 counties. Minnesota’s program is among the strongest nationwide because:
- It allows a group of five or more individuals, businesses, or organizations to go in together on a community solar garden and receive a credit on their bills for the energy produced;
- The solar garden itself (no larger than 1 megawatt—about 4 acres) can be anywhere within the members’ county or an adjacent county;
- The program is not artificially capped, thus allowing anyone that wants to power their home or business with solar, the choice to do so.
Solar developers began submitting projects to the program right away. On December 19, Xcel announced it had received 427 applications totaling 420 megawatts of solar gardens. This chart puts the number in context:
*Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory (see detail)
**These are estimates for proposed projects—some will get built in 2015 and 2016, many may not.
Strong demand shows that Minnesota got the rules right on community solar. Other areas of the country have seen extraordinary economic development from solar, while investment in Minnesota has languished by comparison. Interest in the solar garden program shows that employers are seeking innovative ways to increase their national and global competitiveness.
With business leaders seeking competitive advantage through energy and sustainability practices, Xcel’s Solar*Rewards program enables every employer served by Xcel in the state to go 100 percent renewable.
Following the model of a mall development, solar gardens will likely be built with a few anchor tenants and a mix of smaller buyers. Anchor tenants, representing savvy employers of many sizes, are driving down costs and helping all ratepayers get better financing from energy developers. Over the long term, by providing stability to developers, anchor tenants are increasing access to solar electricity for everyone that wants it.
Fresh Energy’s role
In 2013 Fresh Energy, helped to research, develop, and pass a community solar statute into law. Since then, Fresh Energy has worked with the Public Utilities Commission to ensure strong market rules were adopted. By increasing choice and diversifying Minnesota’s electricity mix, growing Minnesota’s community solar garden program is the right thing to do.