Tag Archives: Xcel Energy

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. 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!

2020 Solar Trends: Xcel Solar Rewards Program

Xcel’s Solar*Rewards® program provides a financial incentive for residents, businesses and public entities to install solar power. Monthly payments are made to the owner of the solar system in exchange for Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) produced by solar.  This is known as a performance-based incentive or PBI.


Xcel customers also qualify for Net Metering up to 1 megawatt AC (or enough power for roughly 200 homes).  If you generate more than you need, the extra energy is added to the grid, and any excess energy will be credited to your bill. 

Additionally, there’s a specific sub-program for under-resourced communities and income-qualified multi-family.


It is important to note that small commercial incentives levels are decreasing.


Also, large projects qualify for a separate bill-credit mechanism called capacity credit program or ELPC which was strengthened in 2019.

 

2020 Solar Trends: Community Solar for Breweries

We all love craft breweries! The popularity of local microbreweries is exploding in the United States, but how can they maximize their profits and  minimize their operating expenses? Well, community solar is a great opportunity to do just that.

Former CEO of Insight Brewing Co., and now solar sales representative, Ilan Klages-Mundt is joining Eric Pasi to discuss how subscribing to community solar benefited his business.

Interested in learning how a community solar subscription could save your business thousands in operating costs? Give us a call: 651-789-5305!

 

 

 

2020 Solar Trends: MN Community Solar Updates

In 2020, Minnesota Community Solar financing is becoming one of the most popular financing mechanisms for commercial solar projects. The community solar program allows residents, businesses, and public entities to participate in solar that’s not located on their property.

Each year in September Xcel proposes a bill credit rate for the following year.  This is based on a set of attributes like avoided costs and environmental impacts to develop a state-approved formula called the Value of Solar.

This rate has fallen slightly each year since 2017 to about 11 cents per kilowatt-hour levelized.

Xcel says its value of solar rate is on track to more than double to about 25 cents per kWh for projects coming online in 2020 — a result that is “unreasonable, unrepresentative, and clearly falls outside of the public interest,” according to the utility.

A compromise is currently being hashed out at the public utilities commission with a likely rate around $.12 per kilowatt hour levelized.

This will allow for continued development, although capacity on the grid is increasingly hard to come by.

 

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.

2019 Brings Changes to Xcel Energy’s Solar*Rewards Program

Xcel Energy’s popular Solar*Rewards incentive program has undergone a few key changes for 2019. These changes are highlighted by adjusted incentive rates, additional consumer protection provisions, and a new low-income branch of the program.  These changes come only six months after the Minnesota Legislature passed HF 3232, which raised the capacity size limit for Solar*Rewards projects from 20kW to 40kW. You can read about that change here.


Incentive Rate Changes


In 2018 both commercial and residential program participants received $.08 for every kilowatt hour of electricity they produced.  This year, the incentive rates have dropped to $.06 per kWh for commercial participants and $.07 per kWh for residential participants.  While these reduced rates will lower the financial benefit program participants receive, they will allow the total incentive budget to be split among more projects.

 


Consumer Protection Provisions


The Solar*Rewards program now requires every installer submitting a residential application to be a licensed Minnesota Residential Building Contractor.  This aims to help protect customers by ensuring that only qualified installers are using the program.  


The new MN Contractor Recovery Fund was also created with customers in mind. The fund compensates owners or lessees of residential property in Minnesota who have suffered actual and direct out-of-pocket loss due to a licensed contractor’s fraudulent, deceptive or dishonest practices, or failure of performance.


Income Qualified Incentives


This year Xcel Energy has added Income Qualified Incentives into the Solar*Rewards program.  These incentives are only available to customers that meet certain income guidelines and have separate rates for residential, non-profit & multi-family, and solar garden customers.

 


Unlike the traditional Solar*Rewards incentives, the Income Qualified Incentives are structured as an upfront per-watt rebate combined with a production incentive. Xcel has set aside between 10 and 20 percent of the total incentive pool specifically for these projects. With the current budget at just over $9,000,000, at least $900,000 will be set aside for Income Qualified Incentives.