Minnesota has cemented its status as the community solar state, but a design flaw in its program design has left many in the community as non-subscribers — namely, homeowners. Last week the Minnesota Public Utility took action to try and broaden the base, voting unanimously to approve an incentive to residential community solar garden customers of 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for 2019 and 2020.
Currently, residents make up about 81 percent of the 9,405 solar garden subscriptions but comprise only 10 percent of the gardens’ power subscription capacity. The commercial to residential ratio in community solar capacity distribution is around 9:1 right now, and this new incentive will certain make a dent, but solar advocates are questioning how much, having advocated for a 2.5 cent kicker.
“My fear is that it’s not going to be enough to move the needle in driving the market toward more residential,” Ross Abbey, of solar garden developer U.S. Solar, said after the vote. “It’s disappointing.”
Often solar advocates have to settle for “beggars can’t be choosers” outcomes because of things like the Minnesota Tribune reporting the state attorney general’s office, which represents ratepayers at the PUC, had opposed a residential incentive. Seen in that light, this incentive is seen as a step forward. David Amster-Olszewski, SunShare founder and CEO, shares his perspective on it:
“This decision by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is a huge win for Minnesota residents that want to contribute to the growth of solar energy without having to install rooftop panels,” he said. “The previously thriving residential community solar market in Minnesota was dealt a strong setback by the value of solar (VOS) tariff when it was first introduced several years ago because the rate was lower than the old rates and only sufficient for the low cost of service of commercial customers.
“As the cost of obtaining and serving thousands of residential subscribers is naturally higher, the market was not able to support residential participation, which is the backbone of the community solar movement. Now that the Minnesota PUC has responded positively to the industry’s recommendation to implement a higher rate for serving residential customers, companies can afford to sell to residential customers again. I expect this decision to have a very significant and rapid impact on SunShare’s ability to develop new community solar projects in Minnesota, creating local, good-paying green jobs and enabling more Minnesotans to choose a clean source of power.”
SunShare was instrumental in the PUC’s decision – its comment paper filed May 11, 2018 (for PUC Docket No. E-002/M-13-867) introduced significant data around how imperative the adder would be to the growth of the industry in MN for residential subscribers.
— Solar Builder magazine