Local Governments gather in Saint Paul to learn about how they can reduce barriers to solar energy

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Local government staff gather in Saint Paul to learn about solar

Last week, over 40 city planners, permitting, and zoning staff from cities all over the metro area attended a workshop to learn more about solar development best practices as part of the Minnesota Solar Challenge that is funded as part of the U.S. Department of Energy Rooftop Solar Challenge.

The goal of the initiative is to make solar electric generation (photovoltaic, or PV) widely cost-competitive with conventional grid sources of electricity by 2020.

The workshop focused on best practices to help improve solar access, zoning and development regulations and to streamline permitting and interconnection to allow for the local development solar resources. Brian Ross of CR Planning provided most of the presentations with Stacy Miller from the Division of Energy Resources providing some background on solar related policy in the State, and Diana McKeown (me) shared with the crowd the rising solar demand in the metro area including the Solar Works! in Minnesota workshop series that Metro CERT has conducted over the past year.

So, why should local governments care about solar?

Solar installations are locally regulated land uses that will become common in the community landscape, therefore local governments need to be aware of the best practices. People in their communities will want to take advantage of their renewable energy resources. Communities will need to make decisions about how and where solar installations are done. Additionally, utility energy prices are steadily increasing, and solar and wind energy costs are steadily decreasing. Also, increasing economic opportunities for businesses to capture local energy resources is making renewable energy an important local resource.

Also importantly, installing more projects will help to create a self-sustaining solar energy market. And Minnesota has a great solar resource, similar to Houston, TX or Fort Lauderdale, FL. An adequate solar resource location is unshaded for several hours every day (around solar noon), both now and well into the future.

Quiz time!

Question: How much land area would we require in Minnesota to meet the state’s electricity needs with solar electricity on a net production basis? All of it? 10%? Just Ramsey County? I could do it on my garage!
Answer: Less than 0.25% of the state’s area or an area the size of Lake Mille Lacs or Ramsey County

Question: Am I guaranteed “access” to solar energy above my home or business?
Answer: There is no Federal constitutional protection for access to sunlight for the generation of solar energy. Some states have created State or local laws to include a right for solar in their “bundle of property rights”.

Question: What technical assistance is available through the Minnesota Solar Challenge?
Answer:

  • Webinar recording presenting local government best practices and how to adapt the best practices.
  • Assessing existing plans, ordinances and permitting processes for barriers to local solar investment.
  • Assisting individual local governments to adapt best practices to existing processes and regulations.
  • Writing draft language or guidance documents for permitting and land use standards to fit the local conditions and circumstances of the individual city.

Here are more photos from the event:

Want to learn more about moving solar forward in your community? Check out the Minnesota Solar Challenge >>

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