In early January, the Minnesota Department of Commerce shared new details about the state’s Low and Moderate-income Accessible Community Solar Garden program (the “Program”) application process and requirements. Among other features, the Program emphasizes subscribing low- and moderate-income (“LMI”) households and public interest organizations and establishes new consumer protection requirements. Applications for the Program will be submitted and reviewed in batches – starting February 1, 2024 – and new caps on project size and Program size will apply.

The Program requires that 30% of the energy generated from a project be subscribed to LMI households, and 55% of the energy must be subscribed by LMI households, public interest subscribers, including schools, faith communities, and nonprofit organizations, or affordable housing providers. Subscriber Organizations can use the ECO Guidance Regarding Definition of Low-Income Household to determine the eligibility of subscribers or conduct an income check for households using a look-up tool that references HUD income levels by county.

To protect consumers, the Program prohibits the following activities: charging an exit fee to a residential subscriber; enrolling a subscriber without the subscriber’s prior, voluntary consent; engaging in misleading or deceptive conduct; and making false or misleading representations. Checking the credit score or credit history of a new or existing residential subscriber is also prohibited. Subscriber Organizations are required to preserve the privacy of subscribers by keeping private a subscriber’s account information, energy usage, energy data, or bill credits unless the subscriber expressly consents to the disclosure, or the subscription contract authorizes disclosure of the information. The Department of Commerce has posted a Subscriber Information Disclosure Form Cover Sheet that must be adapted by Subscriber Organizations and submitted along with their applications. Subscriber Organizations are also subject to new reporting requirements and must publish certain reports containing information regarding the project’s operations.

Applications to participate in the Program will be submitted and reviewed in batches. Each round of applications will be its own batch. The Department of Commerce will review applications in each batch first for completeness. If the round does not exceed the annual cap for each year and projects meet the eligibility requirements, projects may be approved as community solar gardens. The Program will have an annual cap of 100 MW for 2024. If the annual cap is exceeded during completeness review, the Department of Commerce will begin a second stage of review, where the following characteristics of each project will be considered: (1) the degree to which subscribers or the community surrounding the project receives the financial benefit of tax benefits and other incentives related to the project; (2) the scale of financial benefits that the project delivers to LMI subscribers, affordable housing residents, and public interest subscribers, as well as the number of, and project capacity attributable to, such subscribers; (3) project ownership and financing arrangements that benefit public, nonprofit, cooperative, and Tribal entities; (4) whether the project uses nongreenfield locations like rooftops, carports, or sites that contain hazardous substances; (5) whether the project provides workforce development and apprenticeship opportunities, especially for workers who are people of color; and (6) the resiliency benefits the project provides to the electrical grid or the local community.

This detailed project review will be subject to a scoring process. Subscriber Organizations can reference the Prioritization Scoring Rubric to help them analyze their projects’ attributes and the projects’ likelihood of success in moving through the application review. Once the Department of Commerce has conducted its review, project applications may be approved, if the annual cap has not been met, or added to the queue, depending on the project’s score. If a project has been approved, but cannot move forward, then the next project in line will be approved to move forward. At the end of the Program year, the queue will be cleared. Any projects remaining in the queue will be required to submit a new application in the next Program year.

The first application window will open on February 1, 2024, and will close on February 21, 2024. The Department of Commerce has posted on its website resources addressing application requirements, frequently asked questions, and other helpful Program information for Subscriber Organizations. The Department of Commerce expects to post additional content to its website later in January in anticipation of the first batch of applications.