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Continued: Battle over Minnesota solar mandate shifts to the Senate

  • Article by: DAVID SHAFFER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 8, 2013 - 8:56 PM

A spokeswoman for Gov. Mark Dayton said he has long supported renewable energy development, likely would sign the legislation and “looks forward to working with conferees after the Senate passes an energy bill.”

Cooperatives and municipal utilities successfully lobbied to be exempt from many of the new solar mandates and incentives. Iron Range mining and paper companies also would get protection from rate hikes that utilities say the solar mandates would trigger.

Republican legislators said the customer-funded subsidies will shift the costs of solar to customers who can’t afford to install rooftop solar arrays. “You are taking money from poor people and giving it to rich people,” said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington.

Solar supporters rejected that argument, saying the legislation would open the door to solar companies that build turnkey solar arrays with no money down. The bill also would let customers invest in community solar projects, and get credit for a share of power sales on their utility bills.

“Right now solar energy is only available to the very wealthy,” said Michael Noble, executive director of Fresh Energy, a St. Paul-based nonprofit that promotes clean energy. “But as a result of this bill, it will be available to everybody.”

Noble said the price of solar power has declined rapidly in the past few years, and is expected to drop further. The legislation also would extend a subsidy for solar panels made in Minnesota, which benefits manufacturers Silicon Energy in Mountain Iron and TenKsolar in Bloomington.

 

David Shaffer • 612-673-7090 Twitter: @ShafferStrib







 

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  • Workers installed solar panels on the side of the St. Paul RiverCentre Parking Ramp in 2011.

  • Solar Power Legislation

    Minnesota House and Senate bills would increase solar-generated electricity. Though significantly different, they would:

    • Require a percentage of electricity supplied by investor-owned utilities* be solar power by the end of 2025. Goals are 4 percent in the House bill and 1 percent in the Senate bill.

    • For investor-owned utilities, House would increase overall renewable energy mandate to 40 percent in 2030. It is now 25 percent for all except Xcel Energy, which is 30 percent.

    • Encourage solar arrays with production incentives. The House bill would make investor-owned utilities invest 1.3 percent of retail sales in solar subsidies.

    • Establish “value of solar” rates that are more favorable to sellers. The rates must take into account benefits of solar, such as avoiding construction of transmission lines because solar arrays often are built where power is consumed.

    • Apply solar rates to larger arrays, up to 1 megawatt, at investor-owned utilities.

    • Establish a way for utility customers to invest in community solar arrays with power sales credited to their electric bills.

    • Enhance incentives to install solar panels made in state.

    • Exempt cooperative and municipal utilities from solar mandates; in House, protect mines and paper mills from rate impacts.

    * Xcel Energy, Minnesota Power, Otter Tail Power and Interstate Power & Light.

    David Shaffer

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