Minnesota energy bill provision offers $31M for solar – Finance & Commerce

A $31 million provision in the newly approved state energy bill is expected to help pay for hundreds of solar projects on school campuses statewide and create incentives for Xcel Energy customers to harness the sun’s power.

The funding, part of an energy bill approved by the Legislature this week, includes $21 million for solar projects at schools and community colleges, and $10 million for Xcel Energy’s Solar Rewards Program.

The money comes from the state’s Renewable Development Account. Each year, Xcel Energy pays $10 million to $12 million into the account as compensation for storing nuclear energy casks at the Prairie Island nuclear plant in Red Wing.

Xcel’s Solar Reward Program, which offers incentives for customers who install solar photovoltaic systems on their homes and buildings, has been around for a while, but the solar schools initiatives are new.

Griffin Dooling, CEO of solar developer Blue Horizon Energy and executive committee chair of the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association (MnSEIA), said the school initiatives will help create 200 to 400 solar systems at educational institutions.

The $21 million allocation includes $16 million for schools and $5 million for community colleges.

As part of the application process, solar developers like Blue Horizon Energy will work with the schools on proposals that include the project’s scope, benefits for the school and other information, Dooling said.

The school and developer then submit that information to the state’s Department of Commerce and the department works with the project team to identify grant opportunities.

“You may have projects that are in districts that need a significant amount of grant money, and you may have projects that are in larger or more financially sound districts that need less grant money,” Dooling said. “So that all gets set up by Commerce, but ultimately the concept is that this $21 million pool of funding will go toward offsetting the costs of these projects so more schools can participate.”

The omnibus bill doesn’t include new taxes or new funding sources for solar.

Xcel pays $500,000 per year to the Renewable Development Account for every dry cask of spent nuclear fuel stored at Prairie Island, according to Xcel’s annual account report. To date, Xcel has contributed more than $300 million to the fund.

At the direction of the Legislature, the state’s Commissioner of Management and Budget administers the Renewable Development Account.

David Shaffer, executive director of the MnSEIA, said the solar legislation received “bipartisan support,” which “demonstrates the growing value of the solar industry to Minnesota; for job creation, tax revenue, and clean energy.”

“Strong policy has helped the industry rapidly grow and made Minnesota into a nation-leader in solar, and I’m excited that we continue to pass good, bipartisan policy,” he added.

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