- Associated Press - Friday, June 26, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - State regulators have signed off on an agreement that will limit the size of community solar gardens in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved Thursday a settlement between Xcel Energy, the state’s largest utility, and a few community solar garden developers that caps a project’s size at 5 megawatts, with the ability to serve about 715 homes. Xcel had been pushing for a limit amid concerns that some developers were proposing power plant-sized gardens, according to regional vice president Laura McCarten.

“There were proposals submitted to us that were for 10, 20 even larger, even as high as 50 megawatts,” McCarten said. “It was ballooning the size of the solar garden program well beyond what was intended.”

Community solar gardens allow utility customers to choose how much solar power to buy or lease, Minnesota Public Radio News (http://bit.ly/1dkGWqI ) reported.

Xcel predicted that its Solar Rewards Community program could serve 25,000 homes this year.

Some applications proposed solar gardens with a capacity as high as 1,000 megawatts. The utility’s customers would’ve had to bear the costs estimated at $100 million per year without the cap.

The commission’s decision is retroactive and all plans already submitted by developers must be scaled back to meet the new requirement.

Under the settlement agreement, a company is able to build up to five, one-megawatt, co-located solar gardens on one site.

But the ruling adds uncertainty to developers who abided by a 2014 decision by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission that put no limit on how much they can build. Other developers began projects based on a 2004 state standard that limited interconnections for all utilities to 10 megawatts.

David Amster-Olszewski, CEO of Denver-based developer SunShare, which submitted more than 100 project applications in Minnesota, said the regulations need to be clarified. He expects the ruling will be revisited in the next month.

“Over the next 30 days there will have to be a public process, with citizens going into the Public Utilities Commission and encouraging them to take another look at their rulings and push to allow for more economical and larger community solar farms,” he said, “rather than having arbitrary, smaller size ones.”

Regardless of the 5-megawatt limit, Minnesota likely will have one of the largest, if not the largest, community solar garden programs in the U.S., McCarten argued.

“So we’ve got an outcome that strikes a reasonable balance between the interest of our customers and the interest of developers,” she said.

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org

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