Rural Minnesota solar projects stalled by grid access

Environment

Communities throughout Minnesota have recently gone through the process of getting solar projects nearly to the finish line only to be stalled by interconnection challenges.  

Despite the pandemic, 2020 was a record year for solar installation with a 43% increase over 2019. But after lining up the location, contracts, permits and installers, community solar projects across rural Minnesota hit a roadblock when it’s time to connect to the grid. More than 500 of these projects were requested in 2020. 

Communities from Northfield to Lyon and Murray counties have reported the same problem. As a new community solar project was approved in Lyon County pending the interconnection agreement, a conditional use permit in neighboring Murray County had to be extended from 12 to 18 months due to similar delays. 

The Legislature passed a community solar garden law in 2013 and popularity grew fast, solidifying Minnesota’s spot as number one in the nation for community solar. Projects allow residents to enjoy the benefits of clean energy via a bill credit without having to install infrastructure on their property. This reduces cost to individual investors through economies of scale, while allowing trusted installers to shepherd the process to the final step of interconnection with the power grid.

That is when the utility takes over. But instead of moving the project along, this step has become a hindrance. As demand for solar energy increases, we urge utilities to work closely with interested communities to develop a fast and effective solution to this growing problem. 

Feature photo provided by the Center for Pollinators in Energy