For a state filled with independently-minded folks like Minnesota, distributed generation (a system of small, local energy-generation projects—like small wind turbines or solar panels— instead of one big power plant) is a great way to produce the energy we need. (Need a more thorough definition of distributed generation? Read our Energy 101.)
But it’s not just the mindset that makes this kind of energy generation perfect for Minnesota. We also happen to have a host of clean energy resources that are perfect for small-scale, local energy generation: great wind and solar resources, forestry and agricultural byproducts, and geothermal right beneath our feet. That’s probably why we have so many nation-leading examples of distributed generation (and the benefits that come with it).
Take Rahr Malting in Shakopee, for example. The company realized they were paying a lot of money for natural gas so, together with the local Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, they built an onsite facility to utilize malting waste and area agricultural byproducts to heat and power the plant. Another great example is downtown St. Paul’s own District Heating and Cooling system, which is increasingly using renewable resources such as wood waste and solar hot water to heat most of downtown St. Paul. And then there’s the University of Minnesota, Morris which currently uses biomass, wind, and solar to power, heat, and cool the campus buildings. Eventually, the school hopes to power the entire campus through local clean energy (and achieve carbon neutrality).
So if distributed generation has so many benefits, why aren’t we doing more of it? Well, Minnesota has strong policies supporting distributed generation, but cumbersome or nonexistent mechanisms for implementing the policies. It doesn’t help that many of these policies are over 30 years old and far behind much of the rest of the country. This ends up stunting the growth of new projects. Because the mechanisms and policies are interconnected (and can be complicated), there’s been a lot of talk about reforming them. But there’s never been a lot of action.
Currently, the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources is hosting a series of workshops that look at Minnesota’s distributed generation and the policies that impact it. The first workshop looked at success stories of distributed generation in Minnesota as well as barriers to its greater development. The second meeting looked at interconnection and contractual issues of distributed generation. There are two more upcoming meetings that will look at the issues in greater detail.
- Net Metering: Tuesday, November 1, 1:00-4:30pm
- Forum on Next Steps: Tuesday, November 8, 1:00-4:30pm
For more information, or if you would like to attend, contact the State Commerce Department at DG.Energy@state.mn.us. The process is a great opportunity to assess whether, to what extent, and potentially how to increase development of distributed generation in Minnesota.