Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Investor-owned utilities are fighting back against solar

Xcel Energy wants size limits on its Minnesota community solar gardens

Article by: DAVID SHAFFER, Star Tribune
Updated: April 28, 2015

The step, aimed at corporate projects, would cancel more than 80 percent of those proposed

Xcel Energy Inc., alarmed that its Minnesota community solar ­program has unleashed large-scale corporate solar development, on Tuesday said it will enforce size limits on projects — a controversial step that would cancel more than 80 percent of those proposed so far.

Even with a size limit, Xcel officials said Minnesota will boast one of the largest community solar programs in the nation. Such programs, which Xcel pioneered in Colorado, let customers subscribe to shared solar arrays built by energy developers in farm fields or on large commercial rooftops.

Xcel’s size-limit directive, issued in a regulatory filing, jeopardizes plans by St. Paul-based Ecolab Inc., Macalester College in St. Paul and St. Olaf College in Northfield to offset all their electricity with subscriptions to multiple solar gardens. Ecolab and St. Olaf had no immediate comment. Macalester said it hopes its deal with a solar developer will remain in place.

Such deals by large energy users represent “a very different product than the one that was intended by the Legislature,” Aakash Chandarana, Xcel regional vice president of rates and regulatory affairs, said in an interview.

Although Xcel supported the 2013 Minnesota law that authorized community solar gardens, the utility has complained that solar developers are proposing clusters of up to 40 adjacent solar gardens on single sites. Many projects, Xcel said, are being marketed only to large customers, and resemble the large “utility scale” solar projects that Xcel is developing separately at lower cost than solar gardens.

Xcel said it will limit each community solar garden site to 1 million watts (1 MW), which is the maximum size set by law. The utility said it will refund application fees for clustered projects that exceed the size limit, and will refuse to consider more of them in the future.

(Continued here.)

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