*** November/December 2016 Update Coming Soon ***
We’ve made significant headway with the approval & construction of community solar gardens (see chart below!). Xcel has finally picked up the pace on approvals and taking the program seriously, thanks to your community pressure.
However, right now, community solar is not accessible to low-income subscribers, despite these new solar gardens (& the egalitarian nature of the sun's energy).
BUT WHO CAN PARTICIPATE? ...OPENING UP ACCESS
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which regulates energy matters in the state, has now held two public hearings about low-income access to community solar gardens after coordinated comments from Community Power & coalition partners brought up concerns. The PUC's summary report of the hearings is out. From the PUC staff's Summary of the Public Testimony:
"The public hearings drew together a very diverse set of stakeholders – in terms of race, education and socio-economic status...the suggestions they made for further Commission inquiries, were remarkably uniform."
Momentum continues to build thanks to a quickly growing understanding that access and energy equity are crucial - both in order to close widening racial and economic inequality and in order to scale up renewables at the rate we need to combat climate change. Speakers at the hearing suggested regulatory solutions such as a back-up subscriber model, as well as the four asks on our energy equity petition.
Next steps at the PUC:
- Briefing papers posted July 12th
- Oral arguments July 18th - PUBLIC PRESENCE HELPFUL!
- Final Decisions July 21st
As of January 19th, 2015, Xcel had approved 98 out of 896 complete solar applications
As of December 21st, 2015, Xcel had approved 46 out of 612 complete solar applications
Watch the video of the street-theatre action at Xcel's headquarters below...
- Pressure compelled Xcel to make a statement about who they are and what they stand for - in meeting after the Slow Walk, Xcel reps stated they agreed with need for small-scale, community-owned solar not big solar
- Xcel publicly states commitment to small-scale solar development
Increased transparency from Xcel about % of applications being held back by Xcel versus waiting for developers
- 21% have not been approved because of Xcel, or 330MW, as of December 2015
- Some of the "developer" issues are because Xcel has sent back paperwork that is incomplete or higher costs than original estimates
- 20 minutes given in Clean Energy Partnership Board meeting to discussion of status of community solar
- Xcel representative states that Xcel expects at least 250MW of solar online by end of 2016; Xcel estimated 83MW in its Integrated Resource Plan filed in 2015
- Community Power clarified for Xcel reps several mistakes & errors in application process to be fixed
- Expedited approval process for community solar: from point application deemed complete, Xcel committed to 40 days instead of 90 days to approve it.
- 24 applications approved up from 5 approved from pool of 619 (within two weeks of SlowWalk action)
- Fun, meaningful action that brought several over 60 community members together from partner organizations: EnvironmentMN, MN350, Northfield Area Community Solar, VoteClimate, MNIPL & Twin Cities MoveOn
Xcel Energy's Stalling on Community Solar
In May of 2013, the State of Minnesota passed a law requiring Xcel Energy to accept community solar garden projects and process bill credits to subscribers. Since September 2013, Xcel has used many tactics to delay or shrink the community solar program:
● Proposed a program in clear violation of the legislative intent, including a cap on the total amount of community solar and bill credits that would have prevented viable operation. These violations resulted in a 9-month delay in launching the program
● Produced a video implying that solar is only “done right” if it’s done utility-scale & utility-owned, suggesting that third-party ownership of clean energy is ineffective
● Created confusion about locating community solar projects next to each other, including a unilateral action to refuse “co-located” projects. Xcel Energy ultimately secured a retroactive change to program rules limiting adjacent projects in August 2015, and refused to approve any gardens, even those not co-located, until then.
● Delayed the process by twice refusing to define their process and disrupting the order of engineering review for solar gardens.
● Filed a resource plan expecting no more than 40 megawatts of community solar installed by Dec. 2016, despite over 600 megawatts with completed applications
Despite all these delays, Xcel Energy continues to present itself as a friend and partner of clean energy development in Minneapolis and beyond. At the 9/9 Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership Board Meeting, Xcel Energy representative Lee Gabler told other members of the board, including Mayor Betsy Hodges, that Xcel was "moving urgently towards getting solar gardens approved before winter.”
As of October 5, 2015, Xcel has received 1,662 solar garden applications, of which it has deemed 607 complete. Despite a state requirement that Xcel Energy must approve any solar garden that meets program criteria within 90 days of the application being complete, Xcel has waited to approve many of these applications for over 6 months. As of November 9th Xcel had so far has only approved 5 applications according to their Website. Only 1 very small (35kW, about enough for 6 homes) solar garden has been constructed to date. In the solar industry, timeliness matters, especially since the 30% federal tax credit, which helps finance solar development, is set to expire December 31, 2016.
We need Xcel to stop running out the clock.
Whether they result from willful obstruction or poor management, Xcel must be told these delays are unacceptable, violate Xcel's agreements with state regulators, and break trust with the public. In accordance with the required timelines established in Xcel Energy's most recent (10/20/2015) tariff filing, we demand that:
● Xcel Energy process and approve all applications deemed complete as of October 27th, 2015 (607 identified from October 5th, plus those received since) within 60 days (by December 26th, 2015) and report results to the public.
● That all future applications deemed complete after October 27th, 2015 be processed within 50 days of when they are complete
● That the applications not yet deemed complete as of October 27th, 2015 (1,055 applications from October 5th plus any applications received since) be reviewed and deemed complete or eliminated within 40 days (December 6th, 2015) and report results to the public.
Our coalition will hold a public event in February 2016 to highlight the success or failure of these demands and highlight Xcel Energy's role in the future of community solar.
Solar Delays In The News
...beginning with the most recent articles...
- "Stalled Xcel solar garden program in Minnesota may end up in court" Minneapolis New, October 8th 2015
- "Minnesota developers want faster pace for community solar," Midwest Energy News, October 7th, 2015
- "Xcel taking heat for slow rollout of solar gardens program in Minnesota" Star Trib, Aug 31st, 2015
- Re-Tweet from Minnesota Renewables & Vote Solar of local solar developer Ross Abbey's comments about the delays including Star Trib article, August 28th, 2015
- "Xcel Continuing to Push back on Non-Utility Solar" Community Power, August 22nd, 2015
- "Xcel's Minnesota Community Solar Garden Program Full of Weeds" Clean Technica, June 22nd, 2015
- "Still some weeds to pull in Xcel’s community solar garden program" MinnPost, June 19th, 2015
- "Xcel takes action to slow Community Solar Garden Megawatts Added" Community Power, May 12th, 2015
- "Developers Upset With Xcel’s Decision to Limit Community Solar Projects in Minnesota" Green Tech Media, May 04, 2015
- "Why (Else) is Xcel Energy Trying to Axe Minnesota’s Community Solar program?" Institute for Local Self-Reliance, April 29th, 2015
- "Xcel says it will limit size of Minnesota community solar" Midwest Energy News, April 28th, 2015
- way back in December (12/12/14): "Xcel launching program to boost solar electricity" This program was launched because of state requirements to produce 1.5% of its energy from solar.
For an in depth review of the delays, read Lee Samelson of Community Power's blogpost, or John Farrell of Community Power's submission to Midwest Energy News.
What Is Community Solar?
➢ many people share the electricity from a single solar array
➢ a community solar garden developer builds and operates the array
➢ energy users sign up for the solar power
➢ the solar array provides a credit to your electric utility bill based on your portion of the energy from the array
See a map of Community Solar projects here!
Top 10 Reasons to Love Community Solar
1. Community power: Owning a share of community solar is the first step toward takingcharge of your—and your community’s— energy future
2. Equity: Community solar means you can own solar without having wealth or high credit
3. Competition: Most utilities are monopolies, but community solar gives you a choice
4. Control: Your electric utility can’t raise rates on energy that you own
5. Jobs: Every megawatt of solar creates up to 20 jobs in the local economy
6. Local dollars: Spending a dollar on community solar electricity means your electric billsdon’t pay for mines or fracking or pollution
7. Ownership: Community solar means owning a share of your energy future, and it mightcome from a library or school rooftop near you!
8. Access to all: Over half of U.S. households don’t have a sunny rooftop, but everyone can bepart of community solar.
9. Clean, reliable energy: With a 25-year warranty, solar means you get free, clean energy from the sun for decades
10. Savings: Every 1-kilowatt share of a community solar project can cut the electricity bill of an average MN household by 13%
Benefits of Community Solar
➢ You can save on your electric bill and avoid future increases in dirty energy prices
➢ You don’t need to own property; you just need to pay an electricity bill
➢ You don’t need thousands of dollars; many solar gardens offer monthly subscriptions with monthly payments less than the energy cost saved
➢ You own a portion of the electricity generated by the solar array
➢ You help avoid $2.1 billion in annual health costs from fossil fuels in Minnesota
➢ You help fight global climate change
Read more on local solar developers, here.