Current information (2/22/2024): Applicants proposed a total of 39.4 MW in batch 1. These applications are being reviewed.
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During the 2023 Legislative session, the Minnesota Legislature made changes to the Community Solar Garden statute: Chapter 60 - MN Laws sunsetting the “Legacy” program operated by Xcel Energy and establishing a new program to be administered by the Minnesota Department of Commerce (Commerce).
Commerce has launched the Low and Moderate-income Accessible Community Solar Garden program (LMI-Accessible CSG Program). The application process and information about what applicants will need to submit are described below.
Commerce will review community solar applications in batches on a monthly basis. Each application round will be a standalone batch. The application window for each batch will be open for 21 days beginning on the 1st of each month.
At the close of each application window, Commerce will review project applications for completeness. The completeness review will include verification that all components identified in Minnesota Statutes § 216B.1641, subdivision 5 are complete and verification that a proposed project meets all eligibility requirements as described in Minnesota Statutes §§ 216B.1641, subdivisions 6, 7c, and 10b.
If the total capacity of complete applications from the first round does not exceed 100 megawatts (MW), projects will be approved to move forward as community solar gardens.
If, at the end of the completeness review, the total capacity of applications exceeds 100 MW, Commerce will then move to a second phase of review. This phase will be a more detailed evaluation of projects per the criteria described in subdivision 7b. This phase will involve a scoring process as described in the attached “Prioritization Scoring Rubric” below.
Projects not initially approved will be held in the queue for the duration of the program year. If an approved project is not able to move forward, the next in line will then be approved to move forward. At the end of the program year, the queue will be cleared. All remaining projects will be required to apply anew in the following program year.
Timeline and Process for Future Rounds
Future application rounds will similarly open on the first of the month and close on the 21st of the month until the program has reached maximum capacity for the year. For each new batch, Commerce will review project applications for completeness. If the total number of MW in new complete applications in a given round does not, when added to the MW of projects already approved in previous rounds, exceed 100 MW, projects will be approved to move forward as community solar gardens.
If in any round, the capacity of complete applications from the batch pushes the total capacity of applications over 100 MW, Commerce will move to the second phase. This phase will consist of a more detailed evaluation of projects in that batch to prioritize which projects move forward.
As an example, in the first three rounds of applications, the total MW capacity of complete applications is 30 MW in February, 30 MW in March, and 30 MW in April. Those 90 MW of projects may move forward without a second phase review. At the beginning of the May round, there would be 10 MW of capacity remaining toward the 100 MW cap. If, during the May round, another 30 MW of complete projects are proposed, Commerce would move this group of projects to the more detailed review to prioritize which projects would move forward to fulfill the remaining available 10 MW. Others would be placed in queue should a previous project pull out of the program.
Depending upon the volume of applications, the completeness review may not yet be finished by the time a new application window opens. To ensure transparency with the program status, Commerce will publish the total capacity of MWs of projects proposed within three (3) business days of an application round closing. This does not mean that all of those proposed projects are complete, but it will help Subscriber Organizations understand the scale of applications proposed.
Commerce also reserves the right to open additional application rounds during the program year, even if all 100 MW have been allocated, in order to place those applications in queue to be awarded capacity if any becomes available. In this scenario, Commerce will provide written notice on its website and application portal of this fact.
Based on subdivision 5(b)(1), Commerce requires a signed interconnection agreement but does not require that a project enter through a particular interconnection portal. Xcel Energy handles the technical review required to secure an Interconnection Agreement as described in MNDIP. To become a solar garden, a Subscriber Organization then applies with a project, that meets all programmatic requirements, to Commerce. If approved, a Subscriber Organization then works with Xcel to continue the process toward project construction and setting up subscribers at the appropriate bill compensation rates.
2) Perform a household income check using the Commerce-provided 2023 Area Median Income Look-Up Table (.pdf) that references HUD income levels by county and household size. Verification of household income to determine eligibility will need to be documented through the most recent Tax Return-IRS Form 1040. Forms 1040-SR and 1040-NR are also acceptable. If there are multiple filers within a household, these forms need to be collected for all tax filers in the household. Subscriber Organizations must determine if households fall under the 150% AMI threshold by using “Total Income” as reported on the 1040 and 1040-SR, which is found on Line 9 of the 2023 forms. When using the 1040-NR, use “total effectively connected income,” also on Line 9 of the 2023 form.
Please have the Subscriber delete or redact Social Security Numbers from the Tax Forms before collecting. If the Subscriber is unable to remove their SSN, Subscriber Organizations may do it on the Subscriber’s behalf, provided that the Subscriber Organization does not retain any records that contain SSN data.
Subscriber Organizations must maintain documentation of an approved categorical program or tax forms, confidentially, and have available for the Program Administrator to audit. Please see the Subscriber Organization Code of Conduct for additional information about the protection and security of customer information. The Program Administrator will continue to work on additional pathways to streamline the process.
Requirements that 30% of the energy be subscribed to low and moderate-income households
Requirements that 55% of the energy be subscribed by residential and public interest subscribers, including schools, faith communities, and non-profits
The LMI-Accessible CSG Program no longer requires that subscribers be in the same or an adjacent county to the program.
Individual garden may now be sized up to 5 MW.
The total annual capacity of new gardens is now capped. In 2024, the program is capped at 100 MW.
The bill credit rates for subscribers will be calculated by customer class based on a percentage of the annually updated average retail electric rates (A50 rates). The final approved rates approved by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will be published in the new CSG docket: 23-335.
Applications must be submitted through the online portal. The required elements (see the LMI-Accessible CSG Program Application Checklist) will need to be uploaded as individual attachments or answered via web form, depending on the application item. Subscriber Organizations must complete a separate application for each proposed community solar garden.
Commerce is providing a list of answers to Frequently Asked Questions, asked by the public regarding the LMI-Accessible CSG Program to ensure transparency and that everyone has access to the same information. Please submit any additional questions to CommunitySolar@state.mn.us
Commerce held an online information session on January 22, 2024, to review the application process and evaluation criteria for the program, as well as answer questions from prospective applicants. A recording of the meeting and the slides are available here.