RREAL Solar installed 10 4- x 8-foot solar panels in Backus, Minn., the first completed project to qualify for the Made in Minnesota solar thermal rebate. (Photo provided by RREAL)
There is plenty of opportunity for customers of electric investor-owned utilities (Xcel Energy, Alliant Energy, Minnesota Power, and Otter Tail Power) to apply for a 2014 Made in Minnesota solar thermal rebate. The solar electric part of the Made in Minnesota (MiM) Solar Incentive Program—more than $14.5 million of the incentive program’s $15 million budget for 2014—was fully reserved during the January 1-February 28 application period. Applications for the solar thermal rebate program were accepted during the same time period. But when funds were not fully reserved during that time, applications reopened on March 17 and remain open on a first-come, first-served basis until 2014 funds are fully subscribed.
Solar air heat interest increases
Roger Garton is technical director for Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL), a nonprofit group based in Pine River, Minn., that manufactures solar thermal collectors that qualify as Made in Minnesota for the rebate program. He said RREAL has experienced an uptick in interest in solar air heat projects. “We’ve gotten more calls about solar air heat since the propane crisis of this winter,” said Garton. “But we do more solar PV installations than anything else. People are more familiar with PV, they know it works, it’s more mainstream. Solar air heat is a lesser known commodity.”
Serving mainly northern Minnesota, Garton said a lot of the solar air heat interest he has noticed is coming from rural customers who are not in investor-owned utility territory and can’t get the MiM thermal rebate. Investor-owned territory is dominated by natural gas, and it’s hard for solar air heat to compete with natural gas, he said. Great potential exists for solar air heat systems, especially among residents and businesses using propane or fuel oil or electric heat, he added. “The best solar air heat candidates are commercial properties—especially industrial buildings such as utility shops and vehicle garages—that are heating to a lower set point,” Garton said.
Study describes value of solar heating
A recent study commissioned by the Minnesota Department of Commerce examined “The Value of Solar Heating and Cooling in Minnesota” (pdf). It describes the potential of solar thermal to contribute to the state’s renewable energy development and greenhouse gas emission reductions. The study identifies three high-value solar thermal markets: commercial customers using propane, fuel oil, or electric heat; agricultural customers, such as dairies; and low-income residents heating with conventional heating fuels.
The MiM solar thermal rebate is for customers of electric investor-owned utilities. It is available to commercial and residential property owners who install solar thermal systems using collectors certified as Made in Minnesota. Solar thermal systems can be installed for space heating, water heating, and pool heating purposes. The rebate is equal to 25 percent of the system installed cost up to a maximum of $2,500 for residential, $5,000 for multifamily, and $25,000 for commercial systems.