During a public hearing yesterday, the Public Utilities Commission denied Xcel Energy’s request for a contested case hearing for the next stage of developing the Minnesota Community Solar Garden Program (the “CSG Program”). Instead, the PUC decided to proceed with the notice and comment process similar to the previously utilized process for the CSG Program. The fundamental issue in the next round of comments are to focus on the appropriate subscriber bill credit design. Also at issue will be appropriate methods for boosting minority and low-income participation in the CSG Program.

Xcel Energy had requested that the PUC refer these issues to an administrative law judge (ALJ) for a contested case hearing so that the factual issues could be sufficiently examined and verified through that process. Xcel Energy expressed concern that the price for solar needs to be revisited because it was set before the program rolled out. Some Community Solar developers supported this approach.

Representatives from Fresh Energy, SunShare, and the Department of Commerce, however, opposed Xcel Energy’s request, arguing that the added cost and time of a contested case hearing outweighed the benefits. These stakeholders also expressed concern that fewer interested parties would have the resources to participate in a contested case hearing, which makes the notice and comment process a more attractive option at this point.

The commissioners acknowledged the importance of carefully considering the issues in the rulemaking, but also noted that time is of the essence for solar developers who may lose the Federal Investment Tax Credit at the end of 2016. On Commissioner Lipschultz’s motion, the PUC voted unanimously to set a deadline of April 1, 2016 for comments from interested parties on the subscriber bill credit design and encouraging minority and low-income participation. For these comments, any factual assertions should be in the form of verified pleadings or sworn affidavits. The PUC delegated to the Executive Secretary the task of setting the schedule for reply comments, and also delegated to the Executive Secretary to set a schedule for notice and comment on other issues related to the CSG Program.