Red tape at Xcel Energy ensnares Minnesota community solar developments

Artists, students, activists and other community members organized by Community Power and its partners are gathering this morning for a slow-motion demonstration at Xcel Energy’s Headquarters. The protest is in response to the utility’s staggering delays in processing community solar gardens. At the 11:30 am demonstration, participants will ask Xcel to live up to their “responsible by nature” slogan and comply with their legal obligation to approve solar applications within 90 days.

As of October 5, 2015, Xcel has received 1,662 solar garden applications, of which it has deemed 607 complete, five have been approved. Only one very small (35kW, about enough for six homes) solar garden has been constructed to date.

“It’s been more than two years since the legislature passed the law, but the utility’s own resource plan suggests it only expects to process 1 in 7 completed applications after another 15 months,” says organizer Marcus Mills of Community Power. “If it goes that long, any remaining projects will lose access to the federal 30% tax credit. That could endanger many solar projects’ viability leaving the playing field primarily accessible to utility-scale solar.”

The red tape at the protest highlights the many ways Xcel has stalled the solar program. In 2013, its first set of program rules proposed a 20-megawatt cap on the program. It took nearly 12 months for the state’s Public Utilities Commission to order up reasonable rules after Xcel also decided to opt out of using the “value of solar” pricing program the legislature intended.

Even now, with most of the debate over the rules complete, Xcel still stalls. One developer’s lawsuit contends that Xcel is withholding complete results of grid connection studies, overestimating costs, and delaying an extra 90 days every time a developer wishes to contest the outcome.

Xcel Energy continues to present itself as a friend and partner of clean energy development in Minneapolis and beyond. At the Sept. 9 Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership Board Meeting, Xcel Energy representative Lee Gabler told other members of the board, including Mayor Betsy Hodges, that Xcel was “moving urgently towards getting solar gardens approved before winter.”

“If Xcel is serious about supporting community solar and wants to be champion of clean energy – great! But they need to show it. They don’t get to unilaterally decide the scale of production,” says Alice Madden, another organizer with Community Power.

In accordance with the required timelines established in Xcel Energy’s most recent October 20th, 2015 tariff filing, Community Power & its partners demand:

  • Xcel Energy process and approve all applications deemed complete as of 10/27/2015 (607 identified from 10/5, plus those received since) within 60 days (by 12/26/2015) and report results to the public.
  • All future applications deemed complete after 10/27/2015 be processed within 50 days of when they are complete
  • Applications not yet deemed complete as of 10/27/2015 (1,055 applications from 10/5 plus any applications received since) be reviewed and deemed complete or eliminated within 40 days (12/6/2015) and report results to the public.