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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