Minnesota's governor is expected to sign into law a bill this week that will boost the state's solar capacity from 13MW to more than 450MW.
The Solar Energy Jobs Act would likely not have passed the legislature last Thursday without the strong support of governor Mark Dayton.
In his state of the state address earlier this year, Dayton made clear his commmitment to clean energy: “Are we doing all we can to utilise other renewables, such as solar, and also to make Minnesota the best place to locate these new industries and their jobs?
“I challenge this legislature to work again with our state’s visionary clean energy advocates, large energy providers, large energy users, other stakeholders, and my administration to use your past achievements as springboards for Minnesota’s next big leap toward a sustainable energy future.”
The bill establishes a solar standard that would require investor-owned utilities to provide 1.5% of the state’s power from solar energy by 2020, rising to 10% solar by 2030.
Ten per cent of the solar standard is mandated from small solar projects (less than 20kW) to serve residential and small business customers and the customer net-metering cap will be raised to 1MW for investor-owned utilities.
The bill also requires the state's largest utility, Xcel Energy, to establish a community-shared solar programme, establishes a Value of Solar Tariff and commissions a one-year study of the transmission and grid options for getting 40% of our state’s electricity from renewable energy in 2030.
John Kearney, executive director Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association, said that between 50% and 75% of installations would be upwards of 2MW and some developers were looking to string together 10MW-15MW systems.
“The bill will increase the size of Minnesota's solar industry by 40-fold,” he said. “What we've seen around the country as states set these standards is that investor interest shows up – we expect to follow the same pattern.”
However, not all installers were happy with the bill, which exempted co-op and municipal utilities from participating, which represents 50% of electricity supply in the state, he added.
At one point there was also a provision that would have increased Minnesota's Renewable Energy Standard (currently 25% by 2025) to 40% by 2030. Ultimately, the legislature opted not to expand the RES this year.
Samantha Chadwick of Environment Minnesota, which helped author the bill, said the bill's passage was a significant event for the state, which has a solar resource on a par with Florida despite the cold winters.
“We still have much work to do to meet our energy and environmental challenges with efficient, clean and renewable energy,” said Chadwick. “But this bill takes us takes us a few major steps forward.”