Innovative solar model can help all Minnesota Xcel customers save on electric bills

Solar energy intervenors submit first-of-its-kind planning tool to predict rooftop solar growth

Minneapolis, MN – The most affordable, cleanest and job-creating way for Xcel Energy to meet future electricity demand is to set higher incentives for local solar power, a group of clean energy advocates demonstrated in a legal filing at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Thursday. 

“For the first time, we’re showing Xcel how it can model, predict and plan for customer-owned and customer-sited clean energy,” said Will Kenworthy, Regulatory Director, Midwest, for Vote Solar. “Until now, Xcel’s modeling treated local solar as something that just happened, making it unpredictable. With our Comments today, we’re showing how Xcel can plan for local solar, and because it’s the most affordable option, we expect that more local solar will be the headline of its revised plan.”

The Minnesota PUC is currently considering Xcel’s 15-year energy resource development plan, known as an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). Comments from intervening parties are due today. In their comments, the solar groups demonstrated a new, first-of-its-kind modeling tool that, if incorporated into Xcel’s process, can better predict when, where and how local solar – including rooftop and community solar projects – will develop throughout Minnesota.

“Xcel Energy’s original distributed solar forecast was proprietary bupkis, so we made a public solar model that makes sense,” John Farrell, Co-Director at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Solar advocates based the modeling on a peer-reviewed paper released in December 2019 in Renewable Energy that demonstrates the predictable, causal relationship between different incentive programs and values on local solar projects. For example, with a $722 additional rebate from Xcel on an average sized system, the model predicts 60 MW of customer-sited distributed generation. With this specific, modelable knowledge, Xcel can now incorporate local solar and solar incentive programs into its IRP — reducing customer bills, protecting clean air and creating more local jobs.

“Xcel continues to dismiss community and distributed solar as key tools for bringing the benefits of clean energy to folks who might not otherwise be able to afford it”, said Patty O’Keefe, an Organizing Representative working with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “Sierra Club’s cost-effective Clean Energy for All plan saves customers over $2 billion by avoiding a risky new fossil gas plant and instead building out renewable energy and storage – including twice the level of community solar as Xcel’s plan and calls for seven times more distributed solar generation.” 

The advocates developed the concept of modeling future local solar generation and then worked closely with the Sierra Club and its modeling team to incorporate local solar resources into their alternative to Xcel’s Preferred Plan: the Clean Energy for All Plan.

“Our modeling shows that an efficient use of customer-owned solar can help thousands of low-income Minnesota families take control of their electric bills and save,” said Timothy DenHerder-Thomas, General Manager of Cooperative Energy Futures. “Xcel’s resource plan must address the underlying inequities in our current energy system, and customer-owned local solar can help.”

In Minnesota and across the country the lowest-income families are also those with the highest energy burden, meaning that they pay the highest percentage of their income toward their electricity bill. Compared to utility owned resources, local solar makes it easier to ensure that income-qualified or other targeted groups can save on their electric bills. With specific policies and programs from Xcel, future energy resources can meet Minnesota’s needs while ensuring that those who have been previously harmed, excluded or burdened by our electric grid now receive targeted savings, and even local clean energy jobs. 

These Comments are submitted by the Distributed Solar Parties (DSP), which consists of Vote Solar, the Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR), and Cooperative Energy Futures, all represented by Earthjustice, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which is representing itself.

JOIN THE MOVEMENT Sign up for updates from Vote Solar on solar progress and energy justice across the U.S.