Credit: Gerry Machen / Creative Commons

A recent scorecard by a think tank that proclaimed Minnesota’s community solar program to be the best in the nation says the state is missing out on other opportunities to help residents and communities access clean energy.  

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Power State Scorecard judges each state on how their policies “help or hinder” community access to clean energy. Minnesota tied with two other states for 14th place, while Illinois placed fourth and Ohio ranked seventh.

“I confess I was surprised about Illinois a little bit,” said John Farrell, who directs the institute’s Energy Democracy Initiative. “I always thought of Minnesota as more progressive and further ahead than Illinois.”  

Minnesota’s monopoly utility model of energy distribution has put a “squeeze” on initiatives to increase choices for consumers, he said. Other states are opening the door to allow for more energy providers compete.

Recent legislation allowing community choice aggregation helped Illinois boost its score. Community choice aggregation lets municipalities buy electricity from competing companies, an option Ohio also offers.

“We gave a fairly significant number of points to states with that have that policy, which Minnesota doesn’t have,” Farrell said.

Minnesota lost points on interconnection policies but will improve by next year because regulators are working to update them. Its property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing program didn’t score as high as it could have because it only allows for commercial and not residential buildings.

The state has a strong energy efficiency building code, but it lost points because it does not permit communities to have a “stretch” code that’s more rigorous than state regulations.

Another policy the state lacks is a standard contract for renewable resources. A standard contract insures energy producers get a fair price “over a reasonable term to sell that energy in to the grid for others to use it. Without it, they’re at the mercy of a monopoly utility to get a fair price,” Farrell said.

Yet few states outside of California have standard contracts for renewables, the scorecard revealed.

Minnesota did well in several areas, including its community solar program, available in Xcel Energy’s territory. And the state’s score was helped by its solar standard and “carve out” promoting small scale solar. “These programs encourage stuff that’s not controlled by the utility company,” he said.

Two other Midwest states, Michigan and Missouri, finished in the top 25 in the survey. Massachusetts, New York and California finished in the top three slots.

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.