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Supporting Minnesota Solar

May 02, 2012 By Zach Tamble, University of St. Thomas

Today, Minnesota 2020 concludes its continuing series of columns from Macalester students focusing on environmental policy issues.  We'd like to extend a special thanks to Katie Pratt, Ph.D., her students and Macalester College's Environmental Studies Department.

Despite our harsh winters, Minnesota has a solar energy potential that's comparable to southern states. Even Germany, the world-wide leader in solar energy production has less sunlight per year than Minnesota. Why then do we choose to import billions of dollars of dirty energy?

From August 2010 to August 2011, the US solar industry experienced ten times more job growth than the national average. Minnesota is better off with solar energy for many reasons. First, it keeps our air and water clean. When energy is created from solar panels, there is no waste from coal or natural gas, and there are essentially no emissions.

Second, it lessens imported energy dependence. Third, when purchasing solar panels from the state's solar manufacturers the money stays right here in Minnesota. Keeping money in our state allows for greater job growth, increased spending, and economic security. In fact, Minnesota and Xcel Energy have set up a rebate program that incentivizes buying Minnesota-made solar panels.

Many utilities are moving to Time-Of-Use billing, which prices energy based on peak demand. On-Peak is generally from noon to 6:00 PM, and this just happens to be when solar panels generate the most electricity.

Despite its long-tem savings, financing solar projects pose a barrier to installed capacity. Although 2010 was a record year for numbers of installations, Minnesota could be even better off with a third party financing tool. The closest we have come is something called the PACE program. PACE basically means that your local government will loan you money to install solar panels on your property and you pay back the loan with the savings from your utility bill. The PACE program is not very popular though. The city must administer the program itself and then the program is generally funded with municipal bonds. Some consider the whole program unwieldy and people may not want to go through all the trouble.

Minnesota needs a new third party financing system where companies are allowed to install their systems on customers’ roofs, and the customers then sell the electricity back to the grid. This would allow more installations each year and would keep solar companies in Minnesota. We want to keep these industries here in Minnesota because they are helpful in making us energy independent, creating thousands of jobs, and keeping our money in our state. Help Minnesota continue to thrive and take advantage of the great solar energy resource that we have. The sun is just shining and waiting for us to capture its valuable rays.

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