State Solar Power Mandate Under Fire at Capitol

Snowy days in April only underscore the futility of relying on solar energy to power the electric grid. These photos taken earlier this winter of snow-covered solar panels just outside Montrose on Highway 25 illustrate solar power’s obvious flaws in this climate, blizzard or not.








In fact, weather conditions year around limit solar power generation in Minnesota. For example, a Great River Energy study found that ideal sunny conditions at the utility’s experimental solar installation occurred just ten percent of the year. Partially sunny days were recorded just 20 percent of the time.

Yet Minnesota investor-owned utilities face a state mandate to generate 1.5 percent of their electricity from solar facilities. But a bill before the Minnesota Legislature would give smaller utilities a pass from having to comply with the solar mandate by 2020, according to Session Daily, the legislature’s publication of record.

Rep. Cal Bahr (R-East Bethel), who sponsors HF3033, said it would bring “a little less government mandate to electric utility providers.” Members who support the bill said it would also lead to cheaper rates for consumers.

The House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee laid the bill over, as amended, for possible omnibus bill inclusion. It has no Senate companion.

The measure would also eliminate an unbinding but very real goal for environmentalists of generating ten percent of retail electricity from solar in the next decade.

Instead, the bill would no longer require public utility companies with fewer than 200,000 electricity customers to meet that standard. So Minnesota Power and Otter Tail Power would no longer have to meet that standard, but Xcel Energy would, said David Shaffer, director of development and policy at the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association.

Naturally, the Dayton administration wants to maintain the status quo. Goals have ways of becoming mandates under future legislatures.

…Deputy [Commerce] Commissioner Bill Grant said it would exempt two companies from meeting the solar energy standard with less than two years before the compliance date “in spite of the fact that both have made significant strides towards compliance.”

He also mentioned the bill could disrupt investments that have been made to meet the standards, which could result in lost jobs.

Grant said “perhaps the most troubling aspect” of the bill is striking the state’s long-term solar energy goal.

“While only aspirational, this language sends a powerful signal to stakeholders indicating Minnesota’s preference for clean energy,” Grant said. “Striking the language, though, sends an even louder message that policymakers’ views on this are fickle and subject to politics of the moment.”

Of course, politics of the moment got Minnesotans into this fix. Look for our “Minnesota Blows Billions” video campaign with the Clear Energy Alliance coming up later this week based on American Experiment’s ground-breaking report “Energy Policy in Minnesota: The High Cost of Failure.”