Minnesota PUC to look at revamped Xcel solar procurement plan

Should the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approve Xcel Energy’s October 2014 petition for approval of three solar Purchase Power Agreements, or should the commission okay Xcel Energy’s revised request for approval of only two of those solar Purchase Power Agreements?

Those are the questions the commission will face at its Feb. 12 meeting. Commission staff on Feb. 5 filed a briefing memo that lays out the issues for the commission in this docket.

In October 2014, Northern States Power d/b/a Xcel Energy filed a petition for approval of three utility-scale solar projects, which represent the most competitive bids received in response to an all-solar request for proposals (RFP) the company issued in April 2014. These projects are:

  • Marshall Solar – a 62.25 MW project located near Marshall, Minnesota, to be developed by NextEra;
  • MN Solar I – a 24.75 MW project located near Tracy, Minnesota, to be developed by juwi solar; and
  • North Star Solar – a 100 MW project located near North Branch, Minnesota, to be developed by Community Energy Resources.

Specifically, Xcel requested that the commission allow the output of the projects to count toward the state’s Solar Energy Standard and for costs of the approved PPAs to be recoverable through the Fuel Clause Rider. This solar RFP docket materially overlaps with Xcel’s recent competitive resource acquisition process (the RA process). Xcel’s Oct. 24 solar RFP petition was filed six weeks prior to the commission’s decision in the RA process, and in that petition, Xcel requested the commission approve all three solar RFP proposals (Marshall, MN Solar I, and North Star). However, in the RA process, Xcel outlined its intent to pursue one of two solar portfolios, each amounting to 187 MW of solar in total:

  • Portfolio #1: Marshall, MN Solar I, and Aurora, or
  • Portfolio #2: Marshall, MN Solar I, and North Star Solar.

Xcel had requested in both proceedings that the commission make a single public interest determination with respect to which portfolio Xcel would procure. However, for several reasons, the commission did not absorb the bids proposed in the solar RFP docket into the RA process. Ultimately, in its Dec. 15, 2014 decision in the RA process, the commission selected Geronimo Energy’s 100-MW Aurora project and directed Xcel to execute the PPA for that distributed solar project. Because a solar proposal, Aurora, was selected in the RA process, Xcel withdrew its request for commission approval of the 100 MW North Star Solar PPA (so not to exceed Xcel’s 187 MW solar target). With the Aurora PPA approved, Xcel now requests approval of only two solar projects, the Marshall and MN Solar I PPAs, which collectively amount to the remaining 87 MW of Xcel’s planned utility-scale solar portfolio.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.