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New state legislation gives big boost to solar and other clean energy

The 2013 session of the Minnesota Legislature passed an omnibus energy bill in May intended to significantly increase the generation of solar and other clean energy in Minnesota. From a solar mandate requiring public utilities to generate 1.5 percent of their energy from solar, to incentives for homeowners and businesses to acquire clean energy, the bill sends a clear message that Minnesota wants a faster track to more renewable energy. The bill, House File 729, was passed as part of a large omnibus jobs, economic development, housing, commerce, and energy bill and was signed by Gov. Mark Dayton on May 23. Articles 7-13 cover the energy portions of the bill

A few highlights of the bill include:
  • A new solar energy standard that requires four investor-owned electric public utilities (Xcel, Minnesota Power, Otter Tail Power, and Interstate Power & Light) to provide 1.5 percent of their power from solar by 2020; 10 percent of the 1.5 percent must come from installations that are 20 kW or less.
  • A provision that allows for the development of community shared solar, or “solar gardens,” in which a group of individuals may, instead of installing solar panels on their property, choose to invest in a shared system not more than 1 MW.
  • A Solar Incentive Program for systems less than 20 kW that will run from 2014-2018 and be funded at $5 million per year by the Renewable Development Fund (for Xcel territory only).
  • Expansion of the Made in Minnesota (MiM) solar modules incentive, with $15 million per year provided from 2014-2023; includes a $250,000 program for solar thermal systems. MiM program will be administered by the Minnesota Department of Commerce.
  • For four investor-owned public utilities (Xcel, Minnesota Power, Otter Tail Power, and Interstate Power & Light), net metering cap increases from 40 kW to 1 MW; customer is billed for net energy supplied by utility.
  • Four investor-owned public utilities (Xcel, Minnesota Power, Otter Tail Power, and Interstate Power & Light) may opt into a new Value of Solar tariff that compensates customers through a credit mechanism for the value to the utility for operating a distributed solar PV system interconnected to the utility system and operated by customers primarily for meeting energy for their own needs.
  • Department of Commerce is required to perform new energy studies on the value of on-site energy storage, the value of solar thermal, and findings and legislative recommendations on miscellaneous energy topics. Commerce will determine parameters for a study about how the state can achieve an energy system that does not rely on fossil fuels.
  • Limits on Guaranteed Energy Savings Program contracts extended from 15 to 25 years on state buildings.
  • Terms of Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing extended from 10 to 20 years.