Minnesota PUC Green-Lights Xcel’s Community Solar Gardens Program


As expected, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has approved Xcel Energy's Community Solar Garden (CSG) program, with some minor modifications.

Sara Bergan, an energy law attorney in the Minneapolis office of Stoel Rives LLP, says the decision clarified a few issues defining CSG sites and who qualifies as a potential subscriber. In short, the decision is what everybody has been waiting for.

‘The most significant thing about the decision is that it starts the 90-day clock for when the program has to open,’ Bergan says. ‘There's a lot of development waiting for the gate to open.’

Xcel now must file its tariff by Sept. 29 – 10 days from the PUC order. If nobody files any objections or additional questions, Xcel Energy's CSG program will be deemed approved 15 days thereafter, on Oct. 14.

One aspect of the CSG approval process that could have wider significance for solar rate design is that it was the first program in the PUC's jurisdiction where a value of solar (VOS) tariff might have applied. In August, the PUC ultimately declined to use the VOS rate, which it has approved in principle last March.

A VOS methodology is intended to capture the societal value of PV-generated electricity that advocates say utilities generally ignore when crafting solar tariffs.

‘The reason we have the applicable retail rate and not the value of solar is that there is still work to do,’ Bergan says. ‘They are trying to figure out what it means to make the program financable and for whom.’

Andrew Moratzka, a partner at Stoel Rives' energy development group, says the PUC and stakeholders are working on VOS issues on what is essentially a parallel track.

‘More evidence of what the VOS rate needs to be financeable in the CSG context is being considered by the commission,’ Moratzka says.

On Oct. 1, interested parties will file comment as to what, if anything, should be added to the VOS to make it financeable in the CSG program. Xcel is expected to file its 2015 VOS calculation in early March. If and when the commission adopts the VOS, it will apply to the CSG program for all future applicants.

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