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Minnesota is already well on track to meet a solar power goal established by the legislature last year, according to a report released today by Environment Minnesota Research & Policy Center.

The state currently mandates that investor-owned-utilities produce 1.5 percent of their electricity by solar by 2020. The legislation includes a goal — but not a requirement — of producing 10 percent from solar by 2030.

The photovoltaic capacity in Minnesota increased 61 percent per year from 2010 to 2013, states Star Power: The Growing Role of Solar Energy in Minnesota.  By merely seeing that figure sustained at 43 percent annually between 2013 and 2030, Minnesota could achieve the 10 percent level.

“I think Minnesota will get to 10 percent by 2030 if the state can keep its foot on the accelerator,” said Bret Fanshaw, solar program coordinator for Environment Minnesota. “We’ve grown solar more in recent years than we would need to grow it in the next decade and a half to get to 10 percent.”

John Kearney, executive director of the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association (MnSEIA), agrees with that assessment.

“I think it’s quite realistic — Minnesota will have 10 percent solar by 2030,” he said. “We have the infrastructure, the technology and the demand, and the price of panels is going down. We also have the political will, although the overwhelming demand will negate any negative political considerations.”

Laura Burrington, managing director of Minnesota Renewable Energy Society, saw the goal as “reasonable,” pointing out utilities are on track to exceed the state’s mandates for renewable energy.

“There’s going to be huge growth in solar whether there’s a mandate by the state or not,” she said.

The 10 percent solution

Reaching that goal would reduce greenhouses gases by six million metric tons, the equivalent of taking 1.3 million autos off the road.

It would also meet 39 percent of the reduction in emissions Minnesota will need to make by 2030 to meet new carbon regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency.

“There’s so much emphasis on planning right now to meet the requirements and we want clean energy and solar to be a big part of the focus,” Fanshaw said. “We don’t want states just switching from coal to natural gas.”

Other states, too, could meet a 10 percent solar generation goal, according to the report.

“The 22 percent annual growth rate needed for solar energy to supply 10 percent of the nation’s electricity was also surpassed by every one of the top 25 solar states between 2010 and 2013,” said the report. “In 17 of those states, installations of PV capacity have more than doubled annually over the past several years.”

Solar accounted for 53 percent of all new electricity generating capacity in 2014 in the country, the report said. The cost of panels declined 35 percent from 2010 to 2013, and continue downward.

An active community solar garden industry in Minnesota is taking shape and several companies will soon propose significant installations. The report estimates that another 600,000 rooftops in the state have the potential for solar energy.

The game plan

The report suggests the 10 percent goal can be reached by focusing on improving laws and changing circumstances at three levels of government in the following ways.

  • State government. Among the ideas is a larger proportion of solar in renewable energy standards. States should have strong metering and interconnection policies to compensate homeowners and businesses. They should support investments in microgrids and energy storage.
  • Federal government. The plan promotes extending solar tax credits beyond 2016, supporting innovation and continuing to lead by installing solar on federal buildings and military bases.
  • Local government. Eliminate red tape, improve permitting processes, pass ordinances allowing more solar and create options such as property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing. Installing solar on public buildings shows leadership, too.

Kearney liked the ideas presented in the report and added one of his own involving the creation of solar renewable energy certificates. The certificates can be bought and sold by investors and have propelled panel sales in the Northeast.

“That would be a great incentive to invest in solar,” he said. “It would really accelerate the industry’s growth.”

Environment Minnesota is a member of RE-AMP, which publishes Midwest Energy News.

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Frank Jossi

Frank is an independent journalist and consultant based in St. Paul and a longtime contributor to Midwest Energy News. His articles have appeared in more than 50 publications, including Minnesota Monthly, Wired, the Los Angeles Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota Technology, Finance & Commerce and others. Frank has also been a Humphrey policy fellow at the University of Minnesota, a Fulbright journalism teacher in Pakistan and Albania, and a program director of the World Press Institute at Macalester College. Frank covers the state of Minnesota.

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