MANKATO — Today solar electricity is rare in Minnesota because it is so expensive, at least five times as costly as wind power.
The Legislature is weighing a requirement that the state’s utilities generate 4 percent of their electricity from solar power by 2025. The bill would also require utilities to get 40 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2030.
The current standard, set in 2007, calls for 25 percent renewable power by 2025 for most utilities and 30 percent by 2020 for Xcel Energy.
“We think it’s time to nudge the standard forward,” said J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director for Fresh Energy, a clean energy advocacy group. Her group is advocating utilities be required to get 10 percent of their power from the sun by 2030, which it estimates would create 2,000 jobs.
“What we’re finding is that it’s interesting that Minnesota has a better solar resource than any other state in the Upper Midwest ... but very far behind in how much we’ve actually developed,” she said. The state is 31st in the country in solar resources and fourth in wind power generated per-capita, Hamilton said.
Timothy Zinniel, president of Sleepy Eye-based Zinniel Electric, said his company started selling and installing solar panels in 2007 and now makes 50 percent of its annual sales from solar power.
“If (municipal power providers) and power companies could offer electricity from a local standpoint, they’d be creating more jobs locally. Our largest export is our dollars. Let’s keep them here,” he said.
Zinniel estimates he’d hire at least five more people if the solar standard passes.
That doesn’t include the jobs created by Minnesota’s two solar panel manufacturers, tenKsolar and Silicon Energy.
When Zinniel is working with a customer, he offers them both American- and foreign-made panels. The Chinese ones are sometimes cheaper, but Zinniel said many of his customers are willing to pay a bit more to buy American.