Five more community solar gardens now online in Minnesota

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The community solar movement in Minnesota keeps on growing. During the previous four months, five new community solar gardens have been brought online in the southeastern part of the state, located as far north as Benton County and as far south as Dakota County. They are part of a larger Minnesota community solar-gardens portfolio totaling 66 MW including projects.

“Community solar gardens represent a creative and efficient model for an electric company to meet its customers’ and its own sustainability goals,” said Matt Handel, vice president of development for NextEra Energy Resources. “For NextEra Energy Resources, these projects represent an initial portion of the solar gardens we plan to bring online this year.”

This statewide effort brings clean, sustainable energy to all Xcel Energy customers, including subscribers who may participate in the community solar projects from within their “hosting” county or from adjacent counties.

The community solar model

Community solar gardens offer Xcel customers the opportunity to purchase subscriptions to a solar garden without having to install solar panels on their own property. Subscribers pay NextEra Energy Resources for their fixed share of solar energy production and continue to receive power from Xcel Energy, paying their utility bill as usual. They also may receive credits on their electric bill for the solar power produced that may exceed the price paid to NextEra Energy Resources, potentially reducing the subscriber’s overall electricity cost. Current subscribers include Tennant Company, The Home Depot, University of Minnesota, and other commercial and government entities.

10 predictions for community solar in 2018 via Clean Energy Collective

“We recognize that our customers and communities want more renewable energy options,” said Lee Gabler, senior director customer solutions, Xcel Energy. “A lot of effort has gone into making Solar*Rewards Community the nation’s largest community solar program, and it’s good to see that these NextEra gardens are now online and delivering clean, renewable energy.”

In addition to the potential cost savings, the solar gardens create positive local economic impacts, such as landowner payments and increased tax revenue. It is estimated that it will offset approximately 96.8 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in year one that would have been produced if the electricity had been generated using fossil fuels, the equivalent of taking approximately 21 passenger vehicles off the road, or the equivalent of more than 237,000 miles driven.

— Solar Builder magazine

Renewable energy project in Colorado draws interest from Department of Energy

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is partnering with Panasonic Corporation and Xcel Energy to simulate and optimize the energy load profile of Peña Station NEXT, a planned 382-acre mixed-use development in Denver, Colo.

The project will employ the grid modeling capabilities of NREL’s Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF) while demonstrating URBANopt software, a buildings and district energy modeling tool currently under development at NREL. Through this project, NREL hopes to enable a cost-effective, scalable net-zero development infrastructure that has great potential for replication and adoption across the U.S. in future developments.

Pena station panasonic solar project

“The NREL partnership with Panasonic and Xcel Energy helps deliver on our shared vision for clean, affordable, and reliable energy systems at a pace and scale that matters for our society,” said Juan Torres, NREL’s associate laboratory director for energy systems integration. “As a national user facility, the Energy Systems Integration Facility at NREL is an ideal place for both Panasonic and Xcel Energy to analyze and optimize the project’s energy master plan before construction, in a way that benefits all involved.”

The project uses URBANopt to analyze the projected dynamic energy consumption of corporate office space, retail space, multifamily dwellings, a hotel, parking, and street lighting within the planned development. The data will then be integrated into Xcel Energy’s grid distribution modeling tools to create a cost-effective design framework that the utility and developer can use to integrate more distributed energy resources, such as solar photovoltaics or efficient building systems, and innovative rate structures into the development before it is constructed.

DOE prioritizes solar power plant performance with Power Factors funding

The partners are confident the project holds great promise beyond Peña Station NEXT’s borders. Xcel Energy will consider owning and operating the necessary infrastructure to achieve carbon neutrality, potentially expanding the offering to future communities in Colorado. Panasonic is similarly interested in how it might replicate and scale carbon-neutral districts and developments across its other current and future smart city engagements through Panasonic CityNOW. NREL will share its expertise and apply the lessons learned from this project to future developments.

NREL’s ESIF is a flexible and fully integrated lab space dedicated to testing residential and commercial smart energy technologies. It is a one-of-a-kind testing space that connects appliances, electric vehicles, a home, or even a community to an end-to-end energy ecosystem. By incorporating power generation, energy storage, and dynamic energy loads into the facility, researchers can simulate and optimize real-world conditions in a controlled laboratory environment.

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy’s primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for the Energy Department by The Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.

— Solar Builder magazine

Progressive rate settlement filed in Colorado – is this the grid model we’ve been looking for?

colorado rate settlement

Across the country, the solar industry is often depicted as being in “battle” with utilities due to the often contentious arguments that take place between the two sides – utilities looking for what they feel is fair compensation for the grid services they provide; solar adopters and installers looking for the value of distributed generation to be better understood (and compensated). Compromises feel rare, but it doesn’t have to be this way, if both sides looked for alternative solutions, which is what just happened in Colorado. Did we just find a model for future solar/grid arrangements?

Here’s the deal: Colorado utility Xcel Energy was proposing a fixed grid-use charge to all customers bills and a lower price for each kW consumed to try and make the fixed charge palatable. Most stakeholders outside the walls of Xcel Energy in Colorado thought this was uncool – solar people felt penalized and devalued, environmental groups thought it incentivized consumption and large commercial users were upset about the big cost shifts coming their way (there was a higher charge for larger electricity consumers).

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So all of those stakeholders (22 parties in total) came together, discussed options with Xcel Energy and jointly filed a settlement. The grid-use charge is being dropped in favor of two pilot programs that are intended to put a proper value on electricity production when it is most valuable. A hearing on the settlement is scheduled for October.

“Instead of the damaging fixed charges initially proposed for everyone’s bills, we endorsed a move toward progressive electricity rates. These rates will reward residents and businesses who choose to go solar by putting a proper value on electricity produced when it is most valuable,” said Rebecca Cantwell, executive director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association, in a statement.

Xcel Energy will test the two different pricing models for residential customers starting next year. One is a time-of-use pilot divided into summer and winter seasons and peak, shoulder and off-peak rate periods. The second program charges higher rates when large amounts of power are consumed in a short period, no matter the time. The PUC would make the final call in 2020 on whether the programs should be adopted for all 1.2 million of the company’s residential customers.

“This settlement, signed by more than 20 parties, represents a turning point in Colorado’s energy future. It was a massive undertaking and Xcel Energy should be praised for their leadership,” said Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs at the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “We applaud our fellow stakeholders who participated in lengthy negotiations and helped remove proposals that would have penalized the state’s solar customers for years to come. Instead, this settlement expands solar access to low-income customers. It significantly increases the state’s capacity for clean, reliable, affordable solar energy, including more than doubling the solar capacity for commercial and industrial customers through the Solar*Rewards program. Without a doubt, this will support more well-paying solar jobs in the state.

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar industry rallies in Colorado to fight Xcel Energy rate proposals

Colorado solar rates Xcel

Will Colorado’s net-metering battle play out like neighboring Nevada?

Xcel Energy, a utility in Colorado, has proposed increasing fixed charges for all customers while reducing charges on energy used. Xcel also plans to introduce demand charges for residential customers, which up until now have only applied to large commercial and industrial customers. Like similar proposals brought about by other utilities in other states, solar industry advocates aren’t thrilled with the concept, as it can read as disincentivizing investment in distributed generation systems by small businesses and residences.

And just like in other states, the usual suspects are rallying to support pro-solar initiatives and fight back against the proposals by Xcel Energy.

“Right now, Colorado is a top 10 state for solar jobs, and people are moving here specifically to work in the solar industry,” saidLauren Randall, Senior Manager of Public Policy for Sunrun. “Xcel’s confusing proposal would stifle that momentum.”

RELATED: Will this NRDC report revive the Nevada rooftop solar industry? 

More than one hundred Colorado solar energy workers, customers, and supporters gathered on the steps last week before the first Public Utilities Commission (PUC) hearing on Xcel’s proposal to restructure electricity rates.

In recent years, Colorado has positioned itself as a clean energy leader and innovation powerhouse. Last August, after nearly two years of discussions, Governor Hickenlooper’s appointed PUC decided to maintain the state’s solar net metering policy.

Solar supporters worry that Xcel is now looking for “a second bite at the apple” to eliminate rooftop solar competition. When a major utility in Nevada increased charges on solar customers, half a dozen local and national solar companies left the state. In fact, many employees came to Colorado to work in solar after operations were shuttered in Nevada. Coloradans want to prevent a similar outcome here.

“We believe public policies should encourage more distributed solar energy in order to provide customer choice, reduced air pollution and a more resilient electric grid,” said Rebecca Cantwell, executive director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association. “We hope the PUC will decide Xcel’s proposals are moving us away from those goals and instead support innovative rate policies.”


— Solar Builder magazine

Details on Clean Energy Collective, Xcel Energy agree on community solar settlement


Colorado’s electricity customers will gain greater access to local clean power production after another boost to the state’s burgeoning community solar market. Clean Energy Collective (CEC), a leading community solar solutions provider, has reached an agreement with Xcel Energy on the utility’s community solar gardens program, resulting in up to 60 MW of additional community solar allocation.

The outcome of the collaborative negotiation with Xcel Energy and other community solar providers establishes the level of community solar capacity the regulated utility will acquire in its Solar*Rewards Community program for 2016. The agreement also revises the bill credit for commercial/industrial rate classes, adds co-location specifications, and adds an Xcel Energy carve-out for low-income households and non-profits.

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“We are pleased to have worked closely with Xcel Energy to help ensure the Solar*Rewards Community program is a win for everyone,” said Paul Spencer, founder and CEO of Clean Energy Collective. “This process demonstrates how successful collaboration between utilities and the solar industry can lead to more choice for customers, and good business for both the utility and their solar partners.”

Since engaging a local cooperative utility in Western Colorado that spawned the country’s first community-owned solar project, CEC’s approach has centered on building and fostering utility alliance and foresees community solar continuing to be the proving ground for these mutually-beneficial relationships. To date CEC has built or has under development more than 90 RooflessSolar projects with 25 utility partners across 11 states, representing more than 160 MW of community solar capacity.

The agreement with Xcel Energy, which must be approved by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, includes these implementation issues:

  • Xcel Energy will acquire between 6.5 MW and 30 MW of community solar capacity through the Solar*Rewards Community Program for the 2014 allotment and 2016 allotment, seeking to add the maximum for each.
  • Adopts language for the 2016 RFP specifying distance and capacity parameters for co-locating multiple community solar facilities.
  • For the 2015 RFP, community solar developers may elect to receive a $0.03/kWh REC provided that customer bill credits are also calculated on a class-average basis.
  • Permits the application of the class-average bill credit for commercial and industrial rates instead of a customer-specific rate calculation, allowing Xcel Energy to revise the rules for further program expansion and smoother implementation for both participants and non-participants.
  • Provides Xcel Energy ownership of up to 4 megawatts of community solar capacity to exclusively serve low-income customers and non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations.

Clean Energy Collective currently operates 12 community solar facilities in the Solar*Rewards program with 5.5 MW of capacity, and has eight new facilities under development representing 12 MW from the 2015 allocation.

For more info on the Clean Energy Collective, visit their website.

— Solar Builder magazine