Smooth Road Ahead for Xcel to Connect 50+ MW of Community Solar

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Worker installing solar panel

Since a regulatory filing on February 10 Xcel Energy had been delaying implementation of Minnesota’s popular community solar program, even threatening to unilaterally cancel more than 75 percent of projects.

By approving the program rules proposed by Xcel Energy, the Public Utilities Commission has cleared the way for Minnesota’s largest electric monopoly to allow local, regional, and national solar developers to provide customers with choice over how their electricity is generated.

“With two-to-four percent increases every other year, our utility costs have been increasing at a faster rate than our revenue,” said Jon Gutzmann, executive director of Saint Paul Public Housing Agency. “Community solar provides us with cost stability and certainty for 25 years — without having to find space or capital for on-site solar.”

Community solar is “solar for all” because it allows individuals and organizations to benefit from the advantages of solar — no fuel cost, no moving parts, no emissions — without having the solar built on their own property. Typically, community solar developers build sites on the periphery of cities and towns where marginal land and connection to the electrical distribution grid are most cost effective. Individuals, organizations, and businesses then “subscribe” to the solar sites and receive a credit on their bill for the electricity generated.

Unlike utility solar, community solar provides individuals, organizations, and businesses with choice over exactly how much solar generation is credited to their utility bill. In a June 1 filing Xcel stated that it will not build any more utility solar until 2025 or later.

Community Solar vs. Utility Solar

Speaking with the Star Tribune, GTM Research Senior Analyst Cory Honeyman said “Minnesota really is the swing state for making community solar relevant.” GTM Research issued a report this week highlighting Minnesota’s leadership in the national landscape for community solar.

With regulatory certainty now established, on terms proposed by Xcel, the utility is expected to complete interconnection engineering studies and allow developers to move forward with construction of their proposed projects.

The specific agreement that was approved by the Public Utilities Commission included the following provisions:

  • Retroactive limiting of proposed projects such that no more than 5 megawatts of solar will be connected at a single interconnection location;
  • Developers have until September 25 to propose projects that may be as large as the 5 megawatt limit;
  • Beginning September 26, projects will be limited to 1 megawatt at a single interconnection point.

In its deliberations the Commission had discussed a 10 megawatt retroactive limit under the condition that projects include at least 50 percent residential subscribers. There has been strong interest in community solar statewide with hundreds of project applications submitted from a wide variety of different groups.

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