Xcel Energy taking heat for slow rollout of solar garden program in Minnesota
Xcel Energy is facing fresh allegations that it is impeding the rollout of solar power in its Minnesota service region.
Two solar energy companies and the state Commerce Department separately have asked Minnesota utility regulators to jump start the community solar program ordered by a 2013 state law. It allows Xcel customers to subscribe to electricity from centrally located “solar gardens” built by independent energy companies.
Minneapolis-based Xcel, which is reviewing more than 1,100 applications from solar developers since December, has authorized just one community solar garden to connect with the distribution grid. None have been built yet — and solar company executives said it’s unlikely any will be finished this year.
“The continuing delays and issues with this program are really impacting Minnesota’s seeming leadership role in renewable energy,” said David Amster-Olszewski, CEO and founder of SunShare, a Colorado-based pioneer in community solar that on Thursday asked Minnesota regulators to investigate Xcel for actions that delayed its intended $70 million solar garden investment this year.
Sunrise Energy Ventures, a Minnetonka-based solar developer, also challenged Xcel’s handling of the program in a separate regulatory filing on Wednesday. SunShare and Sunrise each have submitted plans to build 100 megawatts of solar gardens that collectively would serve more than 30,000 Xcel customers.
SunShare asked the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to investigate 100 cases in which Xcel allegedly violated program rules by not completing engineering reviews for solar projects on time or in sufficient detail. SunShare, an early entrant in the program whose projects are among the first to be reviewed, didn’t accuse Xcel of dragging its feet, but said the utility hasn’t put enough staff and resources on the job.