New case study released assessing community-based renewable energy projects in Minnesota

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21 October 2016

LONDON: The Climate Group has published a new case study assessing how the US state of Minnesota is supporting the expansion of solar power through Community Solar Gardens that provide electricity to participating subscribers.

Community renewable energy projects are innovative models that enable broader access to clean energy (wind and solar photovoltaics). While many electricity end-users are not able to implement individual solar installations – for financial or technical reasons – shared renewable projects provide them with an alternative to reduce their environmental footprint and lower their utility bills.

By targeting smaller investors at the community level, these programs are also a way to support the local economy and raise awareness on the importance of efficient energy use and sustainable, local energy sourcing.

Shared renewable energy projects are not intended to replace ‘traditional’, larger-scale solar or wind installations, but to supplement them by expanding an already successful business model to an untapped market. They are yet another example of policy models that have the potential to accelerate the energy transition, whilst involving all citizens.  

The case study shows how Minnesota, a partner region of the Energy Transition Platform, set-up a shared solar program to achieve the solar targets set in its Renewable Portfolio Standard (1.5% of retail electricity sales by 2020 and 10% by 2030). 

In 2013, the government passed a legislation mandating the state’s biggest utility, Xcel Energy, to develop Community Solar Gardens. Local customers – residents, small businesses, non-profits and public bodies – can subscribe to a share of a nearby Solar Garden and receive an electricity bill credit based on the energy that their subscription has generated.

“The solar gardens have generated a lot of interest, as it is a much more flexible way of participating in renewable energy”, said Bill Grant, Minnesota Deputy Commissioner of the Energy Resources Division

Since its launch in December 2014, the Minnesota Solar Gardens program has achieved encouraging results: 2GW of solar photovoltaics have already been proposed for Solar Gardens and 18 utilities have decided to voluntarily join the initiative in the footsteps of Xcel Energy.  

While several challenges remain, such as securing project financing and resolving grid interconnection disputes, the program has the potential to significantly support the scale-up of solar in Minnesota – from 35MW today to a potential 500MW in 2020.

Download the Minnesota case study here and find all the Energy Transition Platform’s case studies here.

Minnesota is not the only government to actively support community solar. In the US alone, 14 states and the District of Columbia have dedicated policies for incentivizing the scale-up of shared renewables.

Colorado was one of the first states to pass a legislation in 2010, and its program is among the most successful today: 28 community solar projects are already in operation, producing over 16MW, with another 31MW under development. This success has helped to inspire Minnesota’s Community Solar Gardens program.

In addition to accelerating the energy transition, these initiatives can provide social benefits. For example, the State of New York envisions shared renewables as a way of supporting economically distressed communities – by setting a minimum of 20% of low or moderate income subscribers on all projects.

The Energy Transition Platform connects highly-industrialized, carbon-intensive state and regional governments in developing and implementing clean energy policies. It is part of the States & Regions Policy Innovation program, a forum for peer-to-peer learning on climate and energy topics, including adaptation, electric vehicles and clean technology innovation.

The Energy Transition Platform was launched by The Climate Group, with the initiative’s lead government, North Rhine-Westphalia, and Stiftung Mercator, in early 2016. An analysis of the overall energy transition experience of North Rhine-Westphalia was released in May.

 

Written by Juliette Baralon.

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