Friday marks deadline for customer testimony on Xcel solar energy backlog

Some solar panel applicants have been told it could be more than a decade before their application to connect solar power to Xcel Energy’s grid will be considered.

Kathie and Richard Taranto have been working with a local company to start the process of installing solar panels on their home in Northfield. Part of that process is applying to connect those solar panels to Xcel’s energy grid.

They say connecting it to the grid will be easier to cash in on solar energy tax incentives, sell their collected but unused electricity back to Xcel, and get the meter necessary to ensure the solar power they generate reduces their bill from Xcel.

After filing their application the Tarantos received a letter informing them that their application was added to a queue of other applications. They were told, "There are currently 12 other projects ahead of yours in queue. Unfortunately, this may add a significant delay to your application timeline – I apologize for the inconvenience. We estimate each project can take a maximum of 300 business days to complete the review cycle."

That means it could be as many as 15 years before their application is up for review.

"Why are they taking applications for this knowing that they’re not going to get around to it for 15 years?" Richard said. "We wanted to do it in a timely fashion so we would get the tax benefit."

Delays like this are also impacting larger developers. Nokomis Energy in Minneapolis develops mid-sized solar projects ranging from five to 50 acres. Several of their upcoming solar projects are hung up in the application queue too. According to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, there are around 300 applications waiting to be processed.

"We have this backlog, not because of this overwhelming additional wave of solar. We’re here because the utility is currently not motivated to process them as fast as demand is there," said Julian White, a partner at Nokomis Energy.

White says he believes Xcel Energy is not incentivized to get through these applications and connect smaller solar producers like him and the Tarantos to their grid. Kathie and Richard said they believe Xcel is trying to push them towards investing in their large solar farm instead of installing panels of their own.

"That is the crux of the problem is that the utility has not shown an interest to get to a good high quality, modern interconnection process," White said.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is taking public comment on the issue until October 1. 

In a statement to Fox 9 Xcel Energy said:  

"Xcel Energy has connected a large amount of solar projects to the grid, including 407 community solar garden sites totaling 811 megawatts. We recognize there have been some delays in connecting some projects which is why we have proposed significant changes that are currently under review with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. These changes will make it easier and less expensive for customers to install and connect solar to our grid, and significantly speed up the interconnection process, eliminating several multi-year queues. We are also increasing our staffing and improving our processes and believe all these changes together will help resolve many of the issues and get more projects safely and quickly connected to the grid while still ensuring safety and reliability of the system for all customers. 

As solar projects have rapidly increased in recent years, there have been growing pains and learning by all involved with this process. We look forward to working with the Commission, developers, communities, and stakeholders to ensure these changes are positive and successful."