Category Archives: Community Solar

The Xcel Energy Community Solar Garden Program: What has it Accomplished in Minnesota

 

Written By Ralph Jacobson

IPS has been busy developing solar arrays through the Xcel Community Solar Garden (CSG) program since 2014. This year the CSG program is under fire from one house of the Legislature and getting a boost from the other house. Whether you are a skeptic, a subscriber, or just wonder what all the fuss is about, now is a good time to step back for a minute and consider some of the many ways that the program has benefited not only Xcel Energy customers, but the entire population of Minnesota. I have thought of eight; how many can you think of?

 

1. Minnesota now has a more sophisticated developer and utility partnership. 

The solar market here had been capped at a tiny size of 40 kilowatts since net-metering was enacted in 1980; this supported only a small group of solar installers competing for residential and small commercial business. The CSG program has helped to move the solar market out of the “early adopter phase” of sky-high cost, into the “early mainstream phase” where costs are still too high for utilities but are coming down fast. Our state’s utilities now have local partners who have the depth of experience and resources to continue wrestling with costs and risk factors until these are acceptable for utilities to more directly engage with solar.

 

2. The Minnesota PUC has successfully deployed a joint planning model embodied in the CSG working group, which transfers much of the workload to Xcel and the developers, while maintaining robust oversight.

The sheer volume of proceedings involving solar has created a tremendous increase in the workload of the state regulators. This working group has placed much of the responsibility on the solar power industry itself, utility and non-utility, to work together to find agreeable solutions. Although the issues are being hotly debated now, the groundwork has been laid here for a smoother Integrated Distribution Planning process, involving more players.

 

3. We Needed to Try the Value of Solar (VOS) Tariff.

The CSG program has provided a testbed for the Value of Solar (VOS) concept. After much collective effort and brain power went into developing the method for calculating each line item in the tariff template, no utility stepped forward to try it out. Solar developers thought it would benefit them by raising the price which utilities pay for solar; utilities thought they would see the price fall over time. The VOS started out as a rational approach to calculate the avoided costs for utilities, but because it is now in actual use for the CSG market, we will now find out whether the VOS really does reduce the level of contention on the price which the utility pays for solar power.     

 

4. Minnesota is no longer flyover country for capital, when it comes to solar. Many providers came from different corners of the capital market to check out the CSG model, and some stayed to play.

This was the first opportunity for many in the local solar industry to participate in third-party financing deals. Broader use of third-party financing has stimulated more possibilities for solar deployment, due to more interest from capital providers and more experienced developers and installers. One way to look at it: Minnesota is getting its share of the benefit from Federal Investment Tax Credits. 

 

5. Solar Deployment Has Greatly Accelerated With CSGs.

In the five years from when the CSG law was signed in 2013, through the end of 2018, PV capacity installed in Minnesota went from 17 megawatts to over 1000 megawatts. That’s an increase of 60X!! Over half of that increase is from solar arrays under the Xcel CSG program,  enough to power 50,000 homes.

 

6. Farm income is stabilized with CSGs: farmers who lease part of their land out to a CSG are finding, like their counterparts who lease out land for wind farms, that this builds some stability into their economics.

Typically, these 25-year contracts provide the farmer around $1,000 per acre per year; a CSG requires about 5 acres for deployment of a megawatt of solar modules. Think of it this way: the farmer is getting paid for taking some of their land out of heavy corn and soybean rotation, and to put that land into a soil improvement program which produces electric power at the same time.

 

7. CSGs are associated with soil improvement, and agronomists are beginning to study the positive impact of ground-mounted solar on soils.

Solar developers have largely adopted the planting of soil-building grasses and legumes as the standard soil treatment under a solar array. Fresh Energy’s Pollinator Pledge program has helped build public awareness and acceptance of ground-mounted solar as an enhancement of Minnesota agriculture, and not a distraction.

 

8. CSGs have helped Increase public acceptance of solar, because now there are a LOT more solar arrays deployed around rural Minnesota.  Five years ago, most people (including myself), considered larger ground-mounted solar arrays to be an unnatural imposition upon the agricultural landscape we were accustomed to. Many people live near, work near, or drive by a CSG regularly, and all of us can see for ourselves that a one-megawatt solar array has less visual impact than an ethanol plant, or other large agricultural installations.

Illinois Communities Preparing for Solar

By Amit Shukla

Illinois’s Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) will be the premier legislation to drive renewable energy and economic development in the state of Illinois. Many communities, townships, school districts, colleges, and building owners are gearing up for this legislation.

Along with energy efficiency improvements, this legislation calls for 1.3 GW of wind and 3 GW of solar by 2030. About 1500 MW of solar needs to be built by 2021 and of this approximately 670 MW is distributed generation. The Illinois Power Agency has issued the Renewable Energy Procurement Plan.

The intent of this blog post is to summarize the new “Adjustable Block Program” program.

In a market where energy prices are cheap, the primary mechanism to incentivize these projects is via Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). One REC is equivalent to 1 MWh and it’s the “clean energy” attribute of generating renewable energy. These certificates will be set according to the “Adjustable Block Program” for community solar and behind the meter projects.

Depending on the size of the project and the utility company whose territory the project lies in, the Illinois Power Agency will grant REC values to incentivize these projects. There are separate blocks for community solar and those for distributed generation (DG), which consists of commercial, industrial, and residential.

On the community solar side, based on IPAs draft procurement plan, these REC values may range from just above $100/REC to just under $50/REC. Similarly on the DG side, these REC values may range from close to $80/REC to $30/REC, depending on size and the block.

IPA has issued the first three blocks and the REC values in these blocks will reduce over time. Hence it is important to get in early. These REC values will be paid at an accelerated level of 100% up front for residential solar and within five years for commercial and community solar projects. All incentives along with the federal investment tax credit and accelerated depreciation are expected to defray the upfront cost of doing solar.

Click here to read more!

Minneapolis Debuts World’s First Solar Farm Cider

Among the rolling hills adjacent to a nature preserve in St. Joseph Minnesota is Milk & Honey Ciders. Their latest crisp and balanced cider is “Solar Sweet Farm Cider”, a collaboration with the beekeepers at Bare Honey which tend a busy family of happy honey bees on the solar farm adjacent to the cidery.

IPS Solar and nonprofit Fresh Energy helped make the connection between the beekeepers and the cidery. IPS develops all of its solar farms to have abundant pollinator habitat. Project Manager for IPS and former ASES Board Member Laura Cina says “I think all of the old school solar installers are really just big hippies at heart, so if it costs a little extra to plant vegetation that will boost biodiversity, prevent erosion, help save the pollinators, than that’s what we’re going to do.” Fresh Energy is the nation’s leading nonprofit group highlighting the opportunity for solar farms to provide beneficial habitat for pollinators including bees and butterflies. Minnesota Native Landscapes manages the flowers and vegetation at the solar farm.

Acclaimed restaurateur and two-time James Beard award semifinalist, Kim Bartmann is excited to highlight this delicious collaboration at her restaurants in Minneapolis just in time to celebrate all the work that pollinators did earlier this year in apple orchards throughout Minnesota.

About Solar Sweet Farm Cider
“Solar Sweet Farm Cider” — Golden Russet & Kingston Black apples with honey harvested from the solar farm adjacent to the cidery. Tropical fruit notes from the Golden Russet and herbal spice from the Kingston Black, earthy & sweetness from the honey. 8% abv.

About the Community Solar Garden
The Walz Family farmed this land for decades but when the patriarch farmers of the family passed away the younger generation looked for ways to keep the land in the family. They quickly discovered that leasing the land to a solar garden was more profitable than leasing to another farmer. Additionally, the environmental benefits for the land and surrounding community was a very attractive proposition.
Environmental benefits include:
– Resting the land from farming for 25 years helps build nutrients in the soil
– Clean energy being produced
– The deep root systems of wildflowers and grasses prevent erosion
– Native plantings create food for pollinators

Guarantee Savings With Community Solar

New Value of Solar tariff ensures financial benefits for participants

 

CFO’s and Energy Managers – it’s time to celebrate!  You can now confidently recommend Community Solar today understanding exactly how much your organization will save each year, with the comfort of knowing that number will always be positive from year 1 to year 25.

Facilities Managers can also celebrate, there’s no need for panels on your roof.  Community Solar allows ratepayers to participate in nearby solar projects, with benefits automatically credited to their monthly utility statements. IPS Solar identifies land, develops projects, and contracts with energy users (subscribers) to offer a simple, straightforward approach to energy savings.

 

From Risk To Stability 

Previously, solar developers presented assumptions regarding long-term utility costs.  Many prospective subscribers were concerned with what was perceived to be unknown price risk and may have decided that the program didn’t offer the assurances needed to make an informed decision.  Under Xcel’s new program iteration called Value of Solar, Community Solar subscribers can accurately forecast both the costs and benefits of their commitments upfront. 

Over the last three years Community Solar in Minnesota has become a more stable and mature market, allowing the utility, ratepayers and solar developers to benefit from more predictable energy values.   Xcel’s new Value of Solar tariff sets a known price for solar compensation, contracted for 25 years. 

 

Real Savings

Organizations can expect to save thousands up to millions of dollars during the term of an agreement.  The chart below illustrates indicative benefits for subscribers with varying energy consumption:

Lease Your Roof or Property!

IPS continues to specialize in helping organizations monetize under-utilized real estate like roofs, parking lots, or unproductive land.  Lease your roof so others in the community can benefit from solar energy. We offer very competitive rates and a quick turn around on assessing feasibility at your sites.  Many commercial real estate sectors are getting in on the action; from industrial warehouses to brownfields to multi-family units. Let us help assess your solar revenue potential.

 

 

About IPS Solar:

IPS Solar, a leading provider of solar power solutions in Minnesota and the Midwest, is focused on the development, installation and management of solar power systems for commercial, community solar and residential customers. IPS Solar is one of the fastest growing solar systems providers in the United States, delivering rooftop commercial projects to multi-megawatt community solar gardens.

Our company’s mission is to lead the transition away from fossil fuels toward renewable power while saving money for our customers. For over 25 years, IPS Solar has been serving clients with integrity and excellence.

IPS Solar breaks ground on 1.3 MW in Mankato

Joined by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, Blue Earth County Commissioners and the local Mankato media, IPS Solar broke ground on the site that will hold a 1.3 MW community solar garden. The project will produce enough energy to power roughly 165 average Minnesotan homes.

In addition to the School Sisters of Notre Dame, subscribers include Blue Earth County, the City of New Richland, New Richland Care Center, the Hilton in Mankato and others in and around the Mankato area.

IPS Solar was very grateful to all that attended and committed to provide clean, affordable energy to their community.

The project is being co-developed by IPS Solar and New Energy Equity. This is one of many community solar gardens being brought online by the IPS Solar project team over the next 12 months. Other IPS Solar community gardens in and around Blue Earth county are still taking subscriber applications.

IPS Solar Mankato CSG Press Release 

 

Learn More about Community Solar

St Cloud Area Solar Garden Ribbon Cutting

Under a blue sky and ideal solar conditions, IPS Solar, Egan Constuction, land owners and everyone who build this great array cut the ribbon and commissioned 9 MW of community solar in St. Joseph, MN. 

Following ATV tours of over 10 acres, we held a reception in the rolling fields and appreciated a job well done. After some brief remarks from the parties involved, we capped it off by enjoying some drinks and apps with our guests and media. 

Thanks to everyone who attended and please join us for our next solar celebration. 

St. Cloud-St. Joseph Community Solar Garden Press Release 


St. Cloud Area Solar Garden Project Page | St. Joseph Area Solar Garden Project Page

Manufacturing & Industrial Properties Help Power Twin Cities With Community Solar

Originally published by Building Owners and Managers Association
Written by Steve Oman 

 

Imagine a time lapse flyover of the Twin Cities Metro area during the last 3 years. In addition to all the new construction, it would showcase an ever-increasing number of rooftop solar installations. You would see solar installations on shopping centers, such as Ridgedale Mall, big box retailers, such as Target or Kohl’s, and on more and more large manufacturing, industrial warehouses or Public Works buildings.

Many of these recent solar investments are driven by increasingly attractive economics, but also sustainability goals and supply chain mandates. Industrial manufacturers, for example, have large rooftops that can help significantly reduce operational expenses and also meet green initiatives pushed down the supply chain from procurement managers or consumers.  Despite the ever-growing number of large industrial, e-commerce and distribution warehouses built in the last five years, many of them inside the Twin Cities urban core, very few currently have a rooftop solar installation.

So why hasn’t rooftop solar caught on with large e-commerce and distribution warehouses and large industrial properties, especially those located within that “last mile”? Many property owners have looked at solar in the past, mostly from a cash purchase perspective.

 

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