The biggest year for new solar power in Minnesota was 2016 when the state saw 207 megawatts (MWs) of new solar power come online. But it looks like 2017 is going to blow that away. Already in the first quarter of 2017 alone, the state has seen 203 new MWs of solar power come online and it’s expecting to bring on about 600 more MWs of solar power in 2017.
That’s according to the Minnesota Commerce Department, which reported that as of March 31, 2017, Minnesota had 447 MWs of solar power online—up from 1 megawatt in 2009. That’s a tremendous growth rate from the end of 2015 when the state had about 37 MWs of solar power.
Minnesota has been adding a lot of renewable energy for a long time, but most of it was wind power. “Solar power in Minnesota today is where wind power was 10 to 20 years ago,” said state Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. His office overseas the state energy office. “Wind now provides nearly 18 percent of Minnesota’s total electricity generation. Solar has the potential to grow even faster and larger in the years ahead. The classic Beatles/George Harrison song says it best: Here comes the sun.”
With the growth in solar power, Minnesota has also seen solar jobs grow exponentially. In 2016 solar power employed nearly 4,000 people, an increase of 44 percent, according to Rothman. “Solar presents our state with a tremendous opportunity for a clean, sustainable and job-creating energy future,” he said.
The solar growth largely came utility-scale projects that came online in 2016, including the 100 megawatt North Star solar project in Chisago County. In 2017 a 62 megawatt solar farm came online Lyon County. In 2017 more solar power is expected to come online from community solar projects under construction.
“Minnesota is enjoying dramatic solar growth from residential, commercial, community solar and utility-scale projects. This solar growth is being driven by both innovative public policies and market forces, as solar becomes more and more cost competitive. What used to be called alternative energy isn’t alternative anymore. It’s mainstream,” Rothman said.
Minnesota policies as well as federal policies have helped the state’s solar industry grow, according to Rothman. That includes the Minnesota Solar Energy Standard, which was passed in 2013 and the nation’s first value-of-solar tariff, which was passed in 2014. The standard requires investor-owned utilities to obtain 1.5 percent of their electricity from solar by the end of 2020, with a goal of 10 percent by 2030. Already the state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, is likely to exceed that 1.5 percent threshold by the end of 2017.Tweet