Big solar win for Minnesotans at the state legislature

By Bobby King on May 22, 2023

A new set of laws will increase access to distributed solar energy across the state, thanks to the state legislature’s passage of a major package of energy and environmental policies last week. Distributed solar is smaller scale solar owned by homeowners, farmers, and small businesses. It allows all Minnesotans, not just monopoly utilities, to realize the economic benefits of solar. 

Early this year, the state legislature passed policy to move Minnesota to 100% Clean Energy by 2040. While this was a historic bill, it did not make clear whether Minnesota would prioritize distributed solar and equity in the transition. That’s why Solar United Neighbors, partner organizations, and our solar supporters had to push for policy that would help all Minnesotans access solar and benefit from the transition to clean energy. 

On Thursday, May 18, our hard work paid off. The legislature passed the Environment and Energy Omnibus package (House File 2310), which included several exciting policies that will increase access to distributed solar energy across the state.

One victory is a new law prohibiting homeowners associations (HOAs) from blocking rooftop solar. Solar United Neighbors has been working to protect the rights of Minnesota homeowners who belong to HOAs for years. With 34% of Minnesota homeowners belonging to an HOA, HOAs can be a major obstacle to going solar. SUN gets contacted throughout the year by HOA homeowners blocked from going solar. Now, we can tell them there is a path forward. 

Thanks to this law, homeowners who live in a detached single home cannot be blocked by their HOA from going solar. This law goes into effect July 1, 2023. 

And there is much more:

  • $11.25 million in solar incentives for Xcel customers, including low-income customers: The Solar Rewards program rewards Xcel customers for every kilowatt hour of solar power they produce. The bill provided funding to continue this program through 2025. The bills also made an important step toward energy equity, dedicating 50% of the funds for each year to helping more low-income folks go solar. 
  • Continuation of Minnesota’s community solar program: Minnesota has been a community solar leader. Our program helps folks who can’t install solar on their own homes access solar savings. Legislation passed during this year’s session will enable community solar to continue growing in Minnesota. It continues our strong Community Solar Garden program and will increase access to community solar for low- and moderate-income households.  
  • $250,000 in funding to help Xcel customers get their systems connected to the grid:  Minnesota Xcel customers too often face exorbitant costs for connecting their solar panels to the grid. When Xcel identifies a need for improvements to take on more solar, the customer has to foot the bill or cancel their project. Now, Xcel customers will be able to tap into a new fund to help cover grid upgrade costs. Legislation provided $250,000 to start the fund, which will be replenished through a fee paid by all households that install solar. 
  • $10 million in funding to improve Xcel’s electrical grid to support more distributed solar: In some areas such as Northfield, Wabasha, and nearby communities, Xcel has claimed that the grid can’t accommodate more solar. This funding will pay for grid upgrades to clear the way for solar in these communities so that more folks can put solar on their homes and businesses.  
  • Money to put solar on more Minnesota schools: Our solar for schools program helps public schools and state colleges and universities install solar on their campuses. Additional funding for this program will help more Minnesota schools become clean energy leaders and reduce their electricity costs. 

SUN worked alongside allies Cooperative Energy Futures, Minneapolis Climate Action

Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light, Sierra Club, North Star Chapter, The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Vote Climate and Vote Solar on much of this. We released a joint statement on this achievement: Advocates Applaud Equitable Clean Energy Wins in Minnesota Legislation, Look to Next Session for More Progress.

Minnesota Solar Energy Industry Association has more info here: Historic Legislative Progress Ushers in a New Era for Minnesota Solar + Storage.

The advocacy of Solar United Neighbors members helped get each of these policies across the finish line. As a result, more Minnesotans will be able to participate in our state’s clean energy transition and enjoy the benefits of producing their own solar energy. That’s something we can all feel proud about.