Minnesota is showing that seeds planted long ago may take a while to bloom. The state was a national leader in community solar policy, with enabling legislation passed in 2013, and additionally hosts a healthy renewable portfolio standard and net metering policy.
But despite hosting one of the nation’s largest solar construction companies, Minnesota’s solar market remained small for years. The state had less than 40 MW-DC of installed solar capacity as of last fall, and in 2015 was in the bottom half of solar markets in the United States.
All that has changed in the last six months. According to statistics released by the Minnesota Commerce Department, the state added 203 MW-DC of community solar in the first three months of 2017, nearly as much as the 207 MW it added last year. By the end of the year Commerce Department expects around 400 MW more, to bring Minnesota to more than 800 MW by the end of 2017.
The Minnesota Commerce Department cites growth in all sectors – residential, commercial and utility-scale – however it is clear that a boom in community solar projects has played major role.
This includes the commissioning of the 100 MW North Star solar project in December, as the largest utility-scale solar project in the Midwest. The state’s Commerce Department says that while there are other large projects in the pipeline, much of the new generation in 2017 will come from smaller community solar projects 1-5 MW which are currently under construction.
The agency estimates that if projects underway proceed according to schedule, utility Xcel Energy will exceed the state’s mandate to get 1.5% of its electricity from solar three years early.
The agency is already drawing parallels with Minnesota’s successful wind market. “Solar power in Minnesota today is where wind power was 10 to 20 years ago,” said Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. “Wind now provides nearly 18 percent of Minnesota’s total electricity generation. Solar has the potential to grow even faster and larger in the years ahead.”
And while there was a lag between policy and outcomes in Minnesota, the state is easily leading its Midwestern neighbors. Minnesota was the 12th largest state solar market in 2016, and the only Midwestern state in the top 20 by either market size or installed capacity.