The purpose of community solar is to offer low-cost energy to local residents while providing a means of reducing environmental impact. Typically, a solar facility serves a general county, but community solar developers in Minnesota are looking to remove those boundaries. A group of developers has begun lobbying lawmakers to remove restrictions that restrict homeowners and small businesses to facilities in their county.
The restriction is part of a 2013 law that states that participants are only eligible to subscribe to solar projects built within theirs or an adjacent county. Community solar developers fear that this limits the accessibility of community solar to some homeowners and believe it is currently limiting the industry’s ability to grow. According to the developers, prime locations for community solar sites have already been developed on and are primarily found in the Twin Cities location.
Democratic State Representative Patty Acomb is working with the community solar developers to eradicate the original rule enacted in 2013. Bill HF 653, presented by Acomb, expands the boundaries of community solar. Under the new bill, residents and small businesses can subscribe to projects built within their utility service territory, regardless of what county it may reside in.
Though Minessota’s Republic Party has remained vocally against the expansion of renewable energy, there is hope that the potential for economic benefits will sway their opinion. These benefits would primarily reach rural regions that often generate more Republican votes.
Speaking out against the group of community solar developers is Xcel Energy, Minnesota’s largest utility provider. Xcel believes that there is still a potential for development in other regions. Xcel also fears that costs of development could increase if the bill is passed.
Minnesota’s 2013 law was passed early in the stages of community solar development. It was following in the footsteps of the United States’ first solar law, which was passed in Colorado in 2010. Though Colorado lawmakers initially felt the boundaries would not be an issue, in 2019, the law was removed in response to reduced space for new developments.
Currently, the new bill was placed in front of the House and Senate energy committees for further review.