After much anticipation, Xcel Energy submitted its petition for approval (PDF) of the company’s proposed community solar gardens program on September 30th. The program would give utility customers a new way to engage in solar generation without having to invest onsite. A solar garden is a "facility that generates electricity by means of a ground-mounted or roof-mounted solar photovoltaic device whereby subscribers receive a bill credit for the electricity generated in proportion to the size of their subscription." Other required details of the program are set forth in Minnesota Statutes 216B.1641 and include:
- each garden must also have at least 5 subscribers whereby no single subscriber has more than a 40 percent interest;
- each subscription must be at least 200 watts and the total garden size cannot exceed 1 MW; and
- each garden must be within Xcel’s service territory and its subscribers must be retail customers located in the same or contiguous county as the solar garden site.
While many of the details of the program are set forth by law, Xcel also clarified several procedural elements of its filing. For example, Xcel plans to take applications online on a first-come, first-served basis but limit the program to 2.5 MW per quarterly application period for the first two years of the program. A successful applicant would enter into a 20-year, fixed rate power purchase agreement with Xcel Energy.
Although the rate paid for the energy generated by a solar garden facility will eventually be the forthcoming Value of Solar rate, Xcel states that it is likely the solar gardens program will need to begin operations and issue bill credits before Xcel has a Value of Solar rate in place. For the interim period Xcel proposed to use a blended retail rate that differs by demand and non-demand class and by season. For no-demand metered service this would be just over $0.10/kWh and for demand metered service this would be just over $0.06/kWh, both with slight increases for the summer months. This price is expected to include the transfer of any and all solar renewable energy certificates generated by the garden to Xcel.