Minnesota prepares for growth in solar energy

  • Article by: ANDREA LUECKE
  • Updated: March 14, 2014 - 7:17 PM

The industry can offer clean energy and thousands of high-skilled, high-wage jobs.

In plans announced this month, Xcel Energy will seek proposals to add 10 times more solar to its grid by 2017, and to double that amount of solar energy by 2020 (“State sees a boom ahead for solar industry,” March 8).

Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission must decide this month whether to allow Xcel to replace the coal-fired power generation units at its Black Dog facility with the state’s first large-scale solar project or with a natural gas plant. The solar industry in Minnesota is poised for growth, and this decision represents a historic opportunity to accelerate the state’s clean energy economy and keep investments local.

While this is a decision not to be made lightly, solar energy is a worthy candidate as it has no greenhouse gas emissions, no fluctuating fuel prices and no health costs from air pollution, and it creates jobs.

These merits are why, in part, the solar industry is experiencing record-breaking growth in the United States. Solar energy already powers nearly 2.2 million homes, and it is undergoing dramatic cost reductions.

This past December, a Minnesota judge ruled that Geronimo Energy’s solar bid was “the greatest value to Minnesota and Xcel Energy’s rate payers” when he recommended choosing the Edina-based solar company’s proposal to build 20 large solar power arrays across the state over several natural gas proposals.

The Geronimo solar project is expected to bring eight times more solar energy than is currently installed statewide, creating new high-skilled, high-wage jobs for Minnesotans. Our recent Minnesota district-level jobs report — Minnesota Solar Jobs Census — found 864 solar workers in Minnesota in 2013, an increase of nearly 73 percent since we last produced solar figures for 2012. This puts the state in 31st place for solar jobs nationally, just behind Utah.

On top of this, clean energy, including solar, has bipartisan support in Minnesota, and the majority of state voters favor it. In 2013, Minnesota established solar policies that will mean 34 times more installed solar capacity in 2020 than today. This will cause solar jobs to boom.

Solar is ready to compete. That’s great news, especially in states like Minnesota where hundreds of millions of dollars are sent out of state to import coal and natural gas every year.

By investing in clean energy, Minnesotans can keep more of their hard-earned dollars cycling through the state economy, providing an enormous economic boost and many development opportunities for the state.

 

Andrea Luecke is president and executive director of the Solar Foundation.

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