Media: The Minnesota Solar Experiment — Solar in Minnesota? (

Jun 6, 2016


My curiosity was piqued last summer when I received an email from a Minnesota friend, who had a community solar question. “A solar company is trying to sell my mom part of a ‘solar garden.’ Is it a scam?” A week later, a different friend asked the same question and I started to wonder what was going on. When Minnesota grandmothers start to ask about solar, I knew something was up. I packed my bags and headed to the Twin Cities to find out how the solar landscape was changing in the Midwest, interviewing nine experts across the utility, solar, environmental, and government landscape in the process...

...Seeing that Minnesota had solid energy efficiency and wind policies in place, policymakers approved a range of approaches to expand existing program and test the waters with others. The policies echoed wind energy legislation from the 1990s that jump-started the now 3,200 MW industry in Minnesota. According to Mike Bull, the director of policy and communications at the Center for Energy and the Environment (who has also worked for a Minnesota utility, non-profit, and several government positions) the question among stakeholders was, “What’s the policy that would work for solar here? There was this broad scatter shot, a flooding the zone approach, that legislative session...and surprisingly it all passed. Then we had to work through it..."

...Was the legislation successful? Everyone would agree that it jump-started the solar markets, although the eventual scale of community solar projects is a big unknown. Amidst all the news about California-solar this and Hawaii-solar that, it’s easy to forget that the majority of U.S. states are in a similar position to where Minnesota was three years ago — that is, not much solar. Asked about giving advice to other states, Bull summed it up by saying, “I think a scatter shot approach is a good way to go. Try a few different things, but perhaps in smaller ways to see what works, and then do more of the stuff that works later, to make sure risk is limited..."

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