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Electricity generated from rooftop solar panels could count toward state goal

By Chris Steller

Two electrical utility companies in northern Minnesota may be able to count larger rooftop solar energy installations toward a state mandate.

Current law says a fraction of electricity sold by public utilities -- what Rep. Nolan West (R-Blaine) calls a “tiny sliver” -- must come from solar panels on the smallest rooftops. The state’s solar energy standard requires that by 2020, electricity the utilities sell must include at least 1.5 percent generated by solar sources. Of that, 10 percent must come from the smallest solar projects -- those that generate a maximum of 20 kilowatts.

Rep. Nolan West

HF1882, sponsored by West, would let Minnesota Power and Ottertail Power Company use small solar projects with a capacity of as much as 40 kilowatts. The bill targets those two companies by restricting its provisions to utilities that have between 50,000 and 200,000 customers.

The House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee held the bill over, as amended, Monday for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill. The companion, SF1649, sponsored by Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (Alexandria), awaits action by the Senate Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee.

West said the change would allow the two utilities to apply electricity generated on Minnesota rooftops to meet the goal, instead of buying solar credits. A large house or farm can easily exceed 20 kilowatts, he said.

Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), the committee chair, said he is baffled by incentives for small-scale solar in state law, citing lower costs for energy from wind and larger-scale solar farms.

The bill would also:

  • change the scope of a resource plan that public utilities are required to file; and
  • expand the factors the Public Utilities Commission must consider when determining the public interest with regard to a proposed new or refurbished nonrenewable energy facility, or rate recovery for such a facility. 

 

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