Minnesota lawmakers propose 50% renewables by 2030

The city of Minneapolis is the site of a tug-of-war between pro-solar advocates - including the executive branch and Xcel Energy - and a legislature that wants to eliminate the state's solar incentive.

Like so many other states, Minnesota is sending mixed messages to its solar industry.

On the one hand, Lt. Governor Tina Smith announced today that a bipartisan group of lawmakers has committed to doubling the state’s Renewable Energy Standard (RES) from 25% by 2025 t0 50% by 2030, by introducing new legislation to that effect. While a few days earlier, Xcel Energy reported that it had brought 32 MW of solar gardens online as part of a larger project to bring 96 MW of community solar to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

But amid the seemingly sunny news is one dark cloud: Legislation passed by the Minnesota House of Representatives and making its way through the Senate would eliminate the popular “Made in Minnesota” solar incentive. Originally passed in 2013 to run for 10 years to boost the solar industry in the state, the program costs $15 million per year. Opponents say the rewards aren’t worth the outlay. The incentive gives residents installing panels manufactured in-state can qualify for subsidies based on the energy they generate.

According to the Minnesota governor’s office, the Next Generation Energy Act (NGEA), which created the state’s current renewable energy mandate of 25% by 2025, has created more than 15,000 clean energy jobs and contributes more than $1 billion in economic activity in Minnesota every year.

While prospects for a companion bill passing the Senate are not clear, it clearly hasn’t dimmed Minnesota’s executive branch’s enthusiasm for boosting the solar industry. In the release announcing the new RES plan, Smith said the state is already on its way to surpassing the 25% goal set by the NGEA in 2007.  Presently, 21% of Minnesota’s electricity is produced by renewable energy sources.

“Minnesota has been a nationwide leader in promoting renewable energy, reaping the rewards in good paying jobs, cost savings for our people, and environmental benefits,” said Sen. Nick Frentz, one of the sponsors of the renewable energy bill. “This bill sends a strong message that we intend to stay that way.”

If the 50% by 2030 bill is passed, Minnesota will be tied with California and New York for the third-most aggressive renewable energy mandate in the United States – unless California increases its requirement to 100% renewable electricity by 2045 first.

The enthusiasm for renewable energy extends to the state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy. Last week, Xcel announced that seven new community solar gardens totaling 32 MW in capacity were officially producing electricity, in an effort to bring Xcel Energy customers more solar options.

But 32 MW is only the beginning. With partners BHE Renewables and Geronimo Energy, Xcel wants to bring approximately 96 MW of solar online through the solar garden program.

“We’re proud to work with dedicated partners as we bring more solar energy options to our customers,” said Christopher Clark, president, Xcel Energy – Minnesota. “Xcel Energy is on a path to deliver a third of our energy from renewables by 2030, and solar plays a role in achieving this ambitious goal.”

Each of the recently announced gardens will produce between 3 MW and 5 MW that will be used by all Xcel customers. Geronimo acted as the garden developer, and BHE owns and operates them.

The current goal set by Xcel is to produce nearly 10% of its electricity generated from solar by 2030 and will have 262 MW of large scale solar online by the end of 2017.