Tag Archives: minnesota solar

The Omnibus Energy Bill and What Solar Means for Schools

SCHOOL | Snail Lake Kindergarten | Shoreview, MN | 40 kW SystemSCHOOL | Snail Lake Kindergarten | Shoreview, MN | 40 kW System

The Omnibus Energy Bill

Minnesota legislators recently approved the omnibus commerce and energy policy and finance bill. The aim of the bill is to support renewables, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, make prescription drugs more affordable, and provide additional rights to student loan borrowers. As far as energy is concerned, over $60 million will be used by the renewable development account for the following:

  • Reaching net zero emissions by 2050.
  • Establishing building electrification goals.
  • Creating a process and transition program for retiring generation facilities.
  • Improving siting provisions for solar on farmland.
  • Creating carbon intensity reduction standards for transportation.
  • Facilitating the expansion of a solar plant.
  • Supporting solar projects on k-12 schools and community colleges.
  • And many other initiatives.

With Minnesota’s economy reopening and the school year quickly approaching, this program will be instrumental in providing schools equitable access to solar energy. 

What it Means for Schools 

$16 million will be available for solar projects on K-12 schools, and $5 million will be available for community college projects. In greater Minnesota, the maximum system size will be capped at 40 kW and projects in Xcel will be capped at 1 MW. The Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association projects that the funds could support roughly 350 schools across the state, nearly tripling the current total of school installations. 

There is a focus on equity within this program as well. Within Xcel territory, 40% of the program’s funding will be directed to schools where at least 50% of students receive free or reduced lunches. This will help school districts with a large percentage of low-income students invest in solar and save on utility bills.

Saving on Utility Bills 

Installing solar panels can greatly reduce utility spending on schools, saving significantly in the long run. For example, Mounds View School District installed solar on 13 buildings, and will reduce energy costs by $2 million over the next 25 years. With solar, schools can also protect against rising electricity costs, guaranteeing electricity prices for up to 20 years. 

Hands-on STEM Opportunities  

Solar isn’t just a way to save money on energy, it also provides an opportunity to educate the next generation of energy leaders. Take ISD 197’s sustainability manager’s example, “It’s hard to encourage kids to be excited about learning about energy. This is one way that they can actually see it in action.” In fact, schools must have an educational component in order to participate. In addition to providing an opportunity to see solar in action, IPS clients are offered standards based STEM curricula and educator workshops, free of charge with the Sunrise Program.

Acting Sustainability

Switching to solar energy is one of the biggest changes we can make in our communities to curb climate change. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), generating electricity contributes over one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. With rising concerns about our carbon footprint and the mounting cost of energy, solar is a wise investment for the health of the environment and generations to come. 

Flip the Switch on Solar for your School! 

Nearly a third of all Minnesota schools with solar have worked with IPS, and we are happy to help educate schools about the efficacy of solar energy. If you’re interested in learning more about solar, or seeing if solar is right for your school, simply request a quote, call, or reach out to info@ips-solar.com to get started. We’d be more than happy to coordinate a tour at one of our schools to see an array in person!


Helpful Links for Schools Considering Solar Energy: 

MN Clean Energy Resource Teams | Additional Omnibus Energy Bill Info | Our Schools | Standards-Based STEM Curricula

30 Years Of Solar Ep. 5: Eichten’s Hidden Acres

A shot of the ground mounted solar array installed by IPS at Eichten’s Hidden Acres.  

Growing Trust with Landowners

Eichten’s Hidden Acres is an award winning cheese and buffalo ranch in Center City, Minnesota bordering Taylors Falls on the St. Croix River. The ranch has been family owned and operated since 1976, and is committed to energy efficiency and healthy farming. In 2011, Ed Eichten, the owner of Eichten’s Hidden Acres met with Eric Pasi, the Chief Development Officer of IPS. Ed wanted to learn more about investing in solar not only with the ranch in mind, but for the benefit of future generations. 

“I’ve always been very conscious of burning fossil fuels. I’m from a large family and have a lot of nieces and nephews, so it’s for that, and it’s just for humanity. It doesn’t make sense to keep polluting the atmosphere.”  – Ed Eichten

At the time of Ed and Eric’s conversation, IPS didn’t have a large presence in rural Minnesota and large ground-mounted projects weren’t common. Thankfully, Ed’s enthusiasm for solar led to a 40 kW project that would be completed the following year, and to the start of a long and prosperous relationship with IPS.

A few years later, Minnesota’s Community Solar Program was in its infancy and IPS was searching for landowners that were interested in leasing their land for a solar garden. These gardens would allow people in the local community without ideal roof conditions or finances to benefit from solar. Since the program was brand new and there wasn’t a history of successful projects to refer to, many landowners were skeptical.   

Ed felt as though his original system had already paid for itself, and once again thought it would be a good idea; not just for his own benefit, but for his community and the environment! Ed leased a portion of his land for the solar garden to IPS and construction began. Soon after, the 5 MW project was completed, giving a home to more than 15,000 solar panels to power the ranch and its surrounding community.

Ed Eichten touring the newly commissioned IPS community solar garden shorty after construction.   

“This was the first project we did in the area so they had a lot of questions to answer and we always got the answers we needed.” – Ed Eichten

Ed’s trust in IPS and the success of his project were instrumental in establishing IPS as a trustworthy company for landowners across the state. His early commitment and subsequent solar advocacy provided solar energy access to his community and opened the doors for over 50 (and counting) solar gardens.

2021 marks a major milestone for IPS, and we’d be thrilled to have you join us in celebrating 30 years of solar. Learn more about the event RSVP here!

30 Years Of Solar Ep. 4: Thank you, Mr. Cartwright!

Michael, students, and the IPS team at the Mounds View High School ribbon cutting.  

Solar for Schools

Michael Cartwright, or Mr. Cartwright as his students know him, has been teaching physics at Mounds View High School for over 25 years. In the summer of 2014, he took a course for teachers at the University of Minnesota that focused on renewable energy and bioproducts. Michael chose to center his research during the course around the environmental and economic opportunities that solar power can provide. 

That research led to a meeting with IPS Chief Development Officer Eric Pasi to discuss options for installing solar panels on Michael’s home. During their conversation, they bonded over their mutual appreciation of Hawaii and talked about some recent rooftop projects IPS had completed with the Chisago Lakes School District. After learning about the opportunities for schools through state legislation and Xcel Energy incentive programs, it seemed to Michael that solar was a great opportunity for Mounds View, economically and educationally.

Michael met with the district’s Assistant Superintendent to discuss solar’s feasibility. It was then brought to the Superintendent and eventually the School Board. After much consideration and research, Mounds View Schools applied for three school projects in a fairly competitive field of requests. This was through the Made in Minnesota program, which used a lottery system to provide incentives to over 1,400 projects in 50 counties to stimulate the growing solar industry. Eventually, after three years of the program, 13 of the school buildings had 40 kW solar arrays operating.

Michael’s fascination with solar didn’t end there. He wanted to utilize the rooftop panels to help teach his students about renewable energy. He lent his expertise to IPS and helped us create the Sunrise Program, even taking a sabbatical from teaching in order to give the program his full attention.  

The Sunrise Program offers complete STEM programs designed to spark students’ curiosity and give them the tools they will ultimately need for success, offering schools three approaches. classroom presentations, fully developed STEM curricula and professional development – that can be mixed and matched to best serve each district. The program runs annual workshops for Minnesota educators, several of which Michael has led himself.  

IPS and the Sunrise Program wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for Michael’s enthusiasm and drive to educate future generations about the importance of solar energy. We’re grateful for his exceptional work, and are inspired by the impact he makes on students, schools, the community, and environment every day. Thank you!

2021 marks a major milestone for IPS, and we’d be thrilled to have you join us in celebrating 30 years of solar. Learn more about the event RSVP here!

30 Years Of Solar Ep. 3: Make a Mudslide Shine

A rare IPS photo of a wind turbine.  

Make a Mudslide Shine

Impact Power Solutions is Minnesota’s leading commercial solar developer, but we haven’t always only installed solar. In the mid 2000’s, we installed several wind turbine projects across Minnesota and Western Wisconsin. Renewable wind technology was becoming more affordable and there was interest from many landowners, so it seemed like a natural fit for us.

Unfortunately, product defects caused almost all of the turbines we installed to produce much less energy than originally anticipated. Suddenly, our clients were stuck with large, poorly producing wind turbines that had become eye-sores. After it became clear that no amount of maintenance or repair would get these turbines working properly, we decided to disassemble every single one and replace them with PV solar arrays of a similar size. The new solar arrays were installed at no cost to the clients, and would meet or exceed the original estimated production of the turbines.

Chuck Allen was one of these clients. His wind turbine was installed in 2009 and it was immediately clear that it was not going to meet the original production estimates. We replaced the turbine with a 23 kW solar array, which has exceeded the original production estimates of the turbine. IPS has since narrowed its focus strictly to rooftop and community solar, but we continue to draw on our experience from these projects and the lessons we learned from them. We’re extremely grateful for the patient clients that allowed us to make this right, and we continue to try and make every mudslide shine!

2021 marks a major milestone for IPS, and we’d be thrilled to have you join us in celebrating 30 years of solar. Learn more about the event RSVP here!

30 Years Of Solar Ep. 2: Electric Elections

Footage from the installation at Highbridge Power Plant in Saint Paul, MN.  

IPS Rising to the Occasion

In 2008, with election season in full swing, Ralph got a call from an engineer friend at Xcel Energy. The Republican National Convention was scheduled to be held in Saint Paul, Minnesota – and candidates John McCain and Sarah Palin planned to visit Xcel’s nearby High Bridge Power Plant.

Xcel wanted to showcase renewable energy during the visit and asked if IPS could complete an array at the plant beforehand. The initial call was in June and the visit would be in September, which made for a tight timeline. Not shying away from the challenge, Ralph agreed to take on the project.

The system was completed with a week to spare: it was amazing to see how top security clearance could speed up a job. And the candidates each got to shake hands with our governor with the solar arrays as the backdrop.

The array is still producing, IPS still values its relationships with utilities (and both sides of the aisle), and we still get even the most challenging jobs done right and on time!

2021 marks a major milestone for IPS, and we’d be thrilled to have company join us in celebrating 30 years of solar. Learn more about the event RSVP here!

Going Beyond the Balance Sheet at the Steger Wilderness Center

What is the Steger Wilderness Center? 

Located in the boreal forests of Ely, MN, the Steger Wilderness Center is a facility designed to activate our understanding of what it means to be interdependent—with each other, with our earth and as a society. For many, the Center is a place for artisans to hone their craft for the trades-work economy of the Iron Range. Much of the Center is constructed using found or repurposed building materials, and has grown with a sustainable focus since the 1970’s.   

In January of 2020, the Center sought to improve it’s renewable energy system, which had been cobbled together with donated equipment over the years. By replacing their system’s reused parts with more efficient components, the Center hoped to take the next steps toward meeting its growing energy needs sustainably. 

Sharing a Common Goal

Will Steger assembled a group to discuss what could be done to help the Center in the short and longer term. Ralph Jacobson joined the conversation after becoming acquainted through the Summer Solstice fund-raiser event which IPS sponsored in the summer of 2019. As a result, Ralph Jacobson of IPS, Brian Allen of All Energy Solar, John Kramer of Sundial – key players in competing solar companies, would collaborate to support the wilderness center’s goal. 

Upgrading the Center’s system would be a daunting task, but that’s what drew Ralph toward this project in the first place. “We like to get solar set up in places where it’s a stretch” said Ralph, “It’s a challenging project in a difficult place to get to. The kind of place that’s a bit of an adventure.” 

The three split the equipment costs, and additionally, IPS covered the labor. An IPS electrician and his apprentice installed the new equipment and battery set, and ensured the system was fit for an electrical inspection and utility interconnection. IPS visited the wilderness center in March, replacing batteries, switches, inverters, and other components throughout the spring.

Solving Problems Sustainably 

“Thanks to the upgrades provided from IPS, we now have a reliable 24/7 off grid power that has been a game changer for the Steger Wilderness Center,” said Will. “Our woodworking shop is now carbon free and everything functions with a flick of a switch. This is goodbye to our 50 year dependence on fossil fuel generated power.”

Ralph and the team were excited to finally visit the Center and get to know Will Steger, famed arctic expedition leader and the Center’s namesake. The Steger Wilderness Center certainly lived up to its ideals by connecting competitors, allowing an apprentice to hone their skills, and solving problems sustainably. Today, the project is fit for interconnection, and ready to support the Center’s growing energy needs.

Impact Power Solutions is always available to answer questions about solar. If you’d like to find out what solar would look like for your organization, feel free to email, contact, or get a quote

Meyers Printing Goes Solar

 

On October 16th Meyers unveiled their new solar array at their headquarters in Minneapolis, MN in partnership with Impact Power Solutions (IPS). Since 1949, Meyers has been known for creating innovative print materials to support retail marketing. Meyers recently announced that they’re committed to obtaining all electricity from carbon-free sources by the end of 2021 to dramatically reduce carbon emissions. 

Environmental Impact

The 128-panel array will produce roughly 50 kWh per year, enough to power 5 average Minnesota homes. Over the next 30 years, the solar panel system will offset nearly 1,400 tons of CO2, equivalent to the carbon sequestered by roughly 1600 acres of trees.

System Information

  • 128 Panels
  • 48.64 kW System Size
  • 89,465 pounds of Co2 Offset Per Year
  • 57,395 kWh of electricity Generated Per Year
  • View More

“Companies are often forced to choose between doing the right thing for sustainability and offering cost-effective solutions. We realized this could be done so efficiently that it might even lower our long-term costs. As a result, our customers won’t see any price increases as we move ahead with this plan.” – Chris Dillon, President, Meyers

Why Did Meyers Choose Solar Energy?

Making the decision to move forward with a commercial solar array isn’t always an easy one, but for Meyers, the decision was made clear by scientific consensus and their initiatives for sustainability. 

“Brands and retailers are more focused on sustainability than ever before. Sustainability has become a mantra that drives consumer behavior. And, we’re proud to serve customers and partners that are similarly committed to safeguarding our collective future by heeding the scientific community’s warnings and calls to action. This means everything from using 100% post-consumer waste (PCW) materials to reducing their carbon footprint, including the carbon footprint of their entire supply chain.” – Mike Lane, CEO, Meyers

The decision to make the switch to solar allows Meyers to take another step toward sustainability, save thousands in overhead costs, and allows their stakeholders an opportunity to feel involved in making an impact on climate change.

Congratulations, Meyers!

From the project’s inception to completion, it’s been an absolute pleasure to work with our partners at Meyers. IPS is available to assist businesses and organizations in answering questions about solar energy. Interested businesses and organizations can contact us to learn more.

 

Net Metering: What is it & why does it Matter?

What is Net Metering?

Net metering allows solar system owners to send extra energy they produce into the power grid. So if the system produces more than what they use, the energy sent into the grid is credited. Basically meaning their electric meter runs in reverse. 

 

But Don’t be Fooled.

The promise of earning additional income from the practice is nearly a myth. While it provides FANTASTIC credits & savings to your bill, your system usually won’t produce more than you use.

 

Why is it Important?

  • Firstly, it allows you to save more on utility bills with clean energy.
  • Secondly, it increases the amount of energy that the utility grid receives from renewable sources. 
  • Thirdly, it protects the power grid, allowing utilities to better manage peak loads.
  • Lastly, it increases clean energy demand, creating jobs. 

 

A Brief History of Net Metering

Beginning in the late ’70s, Steven Strong installed 2 solar systems, but he forgot to tell the utility company that his system fed excess power into the power grid.

Fortunately, it all worked, and as a result, several officials from the state and utility company were invited to the grand opening of the projects. As a result of hearing the state officials applaud Strong’s innovation, the utility company ultimately shared their praise. 

After a very positive PR response, clean energy companies across the US adopted the practice. Later on, Strong won several awards from federal agencies and was dubbed “Hero of the Planet” by Time Magazine. 

 

US States/territories with Net Metering Laws

In our home state of Minnesota, clients are only billed for their net usage. When excess energy is generated during the day, the utility company has to pay the market rate when crediting their bill.

Source: (Solar Power Worlddsireusa.org)

 

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  • Alaska
  • American Samoa
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Guam
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Maryland

 

  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma

 
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Puerto Rico
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Washington, D.C.
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Impact Power Solutions is happy to provide solar development services in Minnesota and across the Midwest. If you’re ready to start saving with solar, feel free to contact us or get a quote.  Being the #1 solar developer in the Midwest, our process has constantly improved for over 25 years to meet your needs. 

Meet Saint Paul’s Largest Commercial Solar Array

On August 4, 2020, in partnership with Impact Power Solutions, Vomela unveiled its new solar-powered corporate headquarters in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Who Does the Commercial Solar Array Belong to?

Vomela is known for transforming ideas into memorable brand experiences through print media, offering a full spectrum of services to companies ranging from major retailers to local businesses since 1947. The industry leader moved to their new 300,000 square foot headquarters in the East Side of St. Paul in 2019, and regularly contributes to sustainability and making an impact

What Impact Will the Commercial Solar Array make on the Environment?

The 3,408 panels will produce roughly 1,600,000 kWh per year, enough to power 131 average Minnesota homes. Over 30 years the solar panel system will offset nearly 36,000 tons of CO2, the equivalent of adding over 44,000 acres of trees to our forests.

  • 3,408 Panels
  • 1.3 Megawatt System Size
  • 2,400,000 Lbs of Co2 Offset Per Year
  • 1,483 Acres of Forest Preserved Per Year
  • 1,606,500 Killawatt Hours Generated Per Year

 

“It’s good news for our environment, it’s good news for our children, it’s good news for our lungs, and it’s good news for our future.” –Melvin Carter, Mayor of Saint Paul

Why Did Vomela Choose Solar Energy?

Making the decision to move forward with a commercial solar array isn’t always an easy one, but for Vomela, the decision just made sense.

“Where many companies used to ask “Why solar?”, the answer has become “Why not?”

The decision to make the switch to solar allowed Vomela to take another step toward sustainability, save thousands in their overhead costs, and allowed everyone to feel involved in making an impact on climate change. 

Congratulations, The Vomela Companies!

“Vomela has also been a great partner, and very smart about energy. They understand that solar makes them more competitive. Working with visionary teams like Vomela typically leads to successful outcomes.” – Eric Pasi

From the project’s inception to completion, it’s been an absolute pleasure to work with our partners at Vomela. We’re always happy to be a resource to help companies realize the potential of commercial solar for their business, and to build a better future by providing access to renewable energy.

If you’re ready to make an impact on the environment and your overhead costs, visit our projects page to learn more and get a quote today to get started.

The Pathway to Larger-Scale Solar in Minnesota – Part 4

The Pathway to Larger-Scale Solar in MN

Community Benefits and Distributed Solar (Part 4)

Author: Ralph Jacobson


DG Solar is a nimbler non-wires alternative

A recent article in the New York Times documents the organized public opposition to utility-scale solar farms in upstate and western New York. That state has created some very effective incentives to attract big solar development, but there is no agreement among the public about how much solar is too much, and which landscapes are right for big solar arrays in the first place. This is a hard fight that’s heating up, not just about what we value besides money and property rights, but who has a voice in those decisions. 


We have seen similar fights in Minnesota about wind farms, and it won’t be too long before bigger solar is caught up in the fray. Several counties, townships, and cities have declared moratoria on any further permitting of the one-megawatt sized CSG, which occupies a ten-acre parcel of land. What kind of opposition will arise when the locals are asked to approve solar arrays which occupy several square miles of nearby land? Public attitudes toward larger-scale solar are driven by unrealistic expectations due to seeing miniaturization in most electronics. Unfortunately, the solar resource is extensive: if you want ten times more solar power, you have to deploy ten times more area in solar. 


As we shape the market for bigger solar arrays, we would do well to position DG solar as a smaller and nimbler alternative to the truly utility-scale solar. When sited to provide multiple local benefits, as discussed below, it can be more acceptable to locals and require a shorter development timeline. DG solar can play a key role as a non-wire alternative (NWA) to help minimize the overbuilding of distribution infrastructure.


Sacrificing System Efficiency for Economics of Scale

In a 2005 article, “Critical Thinking About Energy: the case for decentralized generation of electricity,” Thomas R. Casten and Brennan Downes show that electric power industry efficiency peaked at about 65% back in 1910, and decreased to 33% by 1960, where it has remained. The drive to lower the cost per megawatt of generation, by building bigger plants to harness the economies of scale, did not result in greater efficiency. Quite the opposite: in 1910, plants were much smaller and located near thermal loads which could utilize the “waste” heat as combined heat and power (CHP). By 1960, large coal-plants were situated nearer to coal fields and further from cities, and the heat was devalued and wasted as an acceptable loss. 


Keeping city air cleaner and economies of scale were valid reasons for building coal plants far from population centers and their loads. Following that trend, utility-scale solar is far from loads, as we see the largest solar plants built in desert areas. As mentioned above, ground-mounted arrays do take up a significant amount of land, and much of that land in Minnesota is considered prime agricultural land. This might be the toughest of a handful of issues to wrestle with in determining how much of the solar build-out should be DG solar and not utility-scale. A more complex web of issues may pull much of the expected deployment closer to towns and cities.

 

Land use issues

As was true for coal power plants, the further we build large solar arrays from cities and major loads, the more we have to overbuild them to make up for more line losses through the wires. In the US, large power plants must burn up to 15% more fuel to overcome just the transmission line losses. Because DG solar is closer to loads, it is inherently more efficient, and as a bonus its smaller footprint may result in fewer land use battles. Battles over land use can drag on for years and could become a major impediment to the solar contribution toward clean energy targets at 2030 and 2050. It would also make matters easier if we could move away from the single-use approach to land use. There would be more public support for putting solar arrays on prime ag land if the solar could be providing other benefits to a local community, as well. 


Don’t boil DG solar down to commodity electrons

There is a false dichotomy underlying the discussion about the economics of utility-scale versus DG solar that must be addressed in order to do serious planning. Anyone who was watching attempts at solar legislation at the Minnesota Legislature in 2019 saw the utility narrative make a stark U-turn from past years. Where previously the claims were that “solar is too expensive, so we shouldn’t be spending money on it” the message morphed into “utility-scale solar is so much cheaper, why do anything else?” As we saw in the last century around ever-bigger coal plants, that argument works if the only consideration is the cost of generating a flow of electrons, and other multiple benefits are cast aside as having little value. But little value to whom, as we consider it in the context of land use?


Aligning solar with multiple community benefits

The methodology for calculating the Value of Solar tariff includes the social cost of carbon, which utilities have balked at including in the rate structure because solar provides a benefit to the broader community, not just their customers. But it may be much more fruitful to consider this in the context of DG solar: to identify a variety of more specific public benefits, creating a pathway to monetizable value not paid by a commodity electron. 


This would be similar to the concept of renewable energy certificates, or RECs, which can be separated from the tariff with other funding mechanisms. In recognizing that environmental benefits have a value in allowing prime agricultural land to be used for solar, there is an implicit opportunity to monetize some of that value to help overcome the extra cost of DG solar arrays above utility-scale costs, to help make DG solar financeable. We could also go the other direction and apply disincentives to utility-scale solar to address the loss of opportunity to use solar to meet such public or societal benefits.


Identifying other public benefits

Aware that aggressive solar policies are getting pushback in mature markets like that in upstate New York State, Minneapolis-based Great Plains Institute is organizing a campaign of “Siting Partnerships” to build broad public support for use-cases in which solar arrays that are ground-mounted on agricultural lands would align with an environmental benefit. The campaign will enable the solar industry and the utilities to link arms with municipalities and other stakeholders to create site-specific agreements where deployment of solar arrays on prime agricultural lands can be defended. In each of five use cases identified, the landowner will benefit from payments for the use of their land, this aligns their interests with the solar deployment:


Protection of municipal water supplies
Siting appropriately designed, vegetated solar installations on Drinking Water Management Supply Areas and Wellhead Protection Areas currently under agricultural production.

Watershed protection 
Siting strategically designed solar arrays in impacted watersheds to serve as infiltration areas or buffer areas to limit non-point pollution.

Carbon sequestration 
Solar development designed to maximize ground cover or buffer areas to sequester carbon in the soil. Minnesota farmland has an enormous potential to help reverse the build-up of carbon in the atmosphere by building up black dirt.

Habitat protection 
Solar development designed to buffer critical habitat core areas and limit opportunities for development that would degrade habitat functions (pollinator-friendly, for example).

Buffer against unchecked urban sprawl
Use solar development to discourage sprawling development patterns, limit infrastructure expansion, and protect areas designated as having rural character.


Utility locational benefit plus community benefits

Although this will not explicitly favor DG solar over utility-scale, the opportunities for both will be quite literally “all over the map,” as communities cultivate local awareness and support. Any community benefits of solar arrays will be location-specific, as determined by the communities themselves. This can augment the work already being done under the Mn PUC Docket #13-867 to identify locations where solar arrays (as non-wires alternatives) could be electrically beneficial to the power distribution system. 


DG Solar Plays to the Modernized “Smart Grid”

In the electric power grid of today, power flows in one direction: from remote central station generators to the cities and towns where the loads are; utility-scale solar follows this model. DG Solar, on the other hand, can fit with the network architecture of the modernized grid, where power flows whichever direction is needed on the wires from local generation points to provide power for loads in the area. Every device will have an IP address identifier for communication and balance of power flows around the network. In this context, DG solar is considered as a distributed energy resource (DER), along with demand response, energy storage, efficiency measures and other non-wires upgrades to the electric power system.


Are we trying to pack too much into a DG solar tariff?

Larger-scale solar will have fewer non-utility players: contract guidelines may be more useful than tariffs. A tariff is a standardized contract, approved by the Public Utilities Commission for offer to the general public. Under net metering and CSGs, potential users of the tariff are mostly utility customers who wish to self-generate or subscribe to a CSG; they may number in the hundreds of thousands. 


However, DG solar developers will likely number in the dozens and will be working in a more complex market. While selling energy or through a PPA, the system owner might simultaneously be aggregating multiple solar and storage installations to participate in the wholesale power market, or be selling community benefits. This means that contracts must be useful to several participating entities and dovetail with other transactions which may be involved in making a financing scheme viable, and a tariff need only represent one piece of the cash flow. 

Where there are specific locational or functional benefits, or other income streams involved, the particular benefit or function may determine location, contract terms and conditions, and even which utility will be involved. 


The 4th market bucket of DG solar in 2050

By 2050, as little as 10% and as much as 60% of total solar deployment in Minnesota could be in that 4th market bucket. How much DG solar actually is deployed will depend heavily on how we go about shaping the market for it. Because locational and community environmental benefits will play key roles in making DG solar financeable, much of the opportunity is across the state in municipal and cooperative utility service territories. And we will need the support of utilities and municipalities to deploy bigger solar arrays on prime ag land. 


The “tried and true” strategy of asking the legislature and/or the regulators to make the utilities pay higher tariff rates for DG solar, will only reach the investor-owned utilities, and they will fight that. This will only get us a little past that 10% mark. To reach the lightly regulated coops and munis, and gain their support for a larger statewide market, we must limit how much we try to pack into DG tariffs. More effort must then be put into creating linkages with capital sources to monetize environmental benefits and unlocking the market for grid benefits with the addition of energy storage to the electric power system. 

– Ralph Jacobson, July 2020


Next: Energy Storage Will Enable Higher Solar Deployment