This is a big week for the development of solar energy in Minnesota. That’s because the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is set August 7th to peg the magic number that Xcel Energy and some other state utilities must pay for solar energy developed under the new Community Solar Garden law.

It’s all very complicated but it boils down to this: The new CSG law, which allows any “member” or “subscriber” to buy solar electricity from nearby "hosts" to power their own homes or businesses, can work only if the state PUC sets a price that makes projects viable.

In the world of renewable energy finance, some utilities and business groups want the price to be set low. Solar advocates and supporters want the price to be higher.

Now it's up to the PUC to decide.

As a “green” small business owner with a robust solar presence in this market, I stand with advocates and many consumers--deliver a "price of solar" that propels the industry forward.

The multiple benefits of community solar gardens justify it. As community assets, solar gardens will encourage a dramatic influx of small, locally developed distributed solar installations that will have a positive impact on the environment, the economy and, over time, the cost of energy to consumers.

Utilities, the nuclear industry (the most subsidized industry in history) and the fossil fuel industries (oil, coal and gas) have enjoyed billions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies over the years—far more than the wind, biomass or solar industries will ever get--or need. Its time to balance the scales, even if only a little.

With the new CSG law in effect, the hour is getting late for solar projects to commence this construction season. Failure of the PUC to honor legislative intent will silence the industry just when it is beginning to roar.

The PUC is obligated to act in the public interest. Doing its part to aggressively facilitate the fledgling but promising solar energy industry in our state honors that commitment.

Not just now but for future generations.

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