Community Solar

Community Solar

July 09, 2015 | By Keith Martin in Washington, DC

COMMUNITY SOLAR projects in Minnesota will be smaller than most developers want under a settlement worked out between Xcel and a small group of community solar advocates and approved by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in late June.

Some larger developers are urging the commission to revisit a five-megawatt cap on project size before issuing the final order. They argue that a 10-megawatt cap would make such projects more economic for subscribers.

Community solar projects are small utility-scale solar arrays in which individuals or businesses who are unable to put solar equip-ment on their roofs can participate by buying panels or a share of the electricity. The output is sold to the local utility. The subscribers get credits for their shares of the power that they can use against their utility bills.

Nine or 10 US states have laws currently that enable such projects to work. Xcel, the parent company of one of the main electric utilities in Minnesota, was flooded with more than 750 megawatts of proposals after it started accepting applications for community solar projects in December 2014.

The utility worked out a settlement with a handful of community solar advocates to limit projects to no more than five megawatts in size. Multiple arrays on the same site will be aggre-gated and treated as a single project if they “exhibit characteristics of a single development, including, but not limited to, a common owner-ship structure, an umbrella arrangement, shared interconnection, revenue-sharing arrangements, and common debt and equity financing.”

The 5-MW cap will apply to co-located projects that were in the queue as of June 25, 2015 as well as to projects for which applications are submitted “prior to” September 25, 2015. A 1-MW cap will apply to projects for which applications are submitted “after” September 25, 2015 through September 15, 2016. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will have to decide what caps apply after that.

The first set of projects covered by the 5-MW cap will be entitled to interconnection agree-ments within 50 days after the application is complete.

Applications will be treated as complete as of June 1 for co-located projects of more than 1 MW AC in size that had met at least three of seven milestones. The milestones include site control, sufficient project financing, possession of required local permits, subscriptions for at least 50% of the project output, and equipment and panel procurement contracts. For applications that were not complete as of that date, Xcel and the developer will have to come up with a timeline intended to demonstrate that the project can get into service by the end of 2016.

The projects are expected to be connected to Xcel distribution lines. However, the utility will not be required to connect any project that requires more than $1 million in upgrades to its distribution system to accommodate the interconnection where upgrades are required for “safety, reliability or prudent engineering.”

Keith Martin in Washington