If I could sum up my experience at the Midwest Solar Expo (@MWSolarExpo) in one word, that word would be “optimism.” And talking about optimism in the context of Midwest solar reflects a shift from previous years.
Last year, for example, many were upset about the inability of Minnesota (where the Expo takes place each year) to jumpstart its Community Solar Garden (CSG) program. The state’s largest utility seemed to be slow-walking solar development, and the SunEdison bankruptcy stalled rebate payments to companies next in line.
In other words, Minnesota’s solar policy was not on a solid footing, and Expo attendees were unhappy.
This year, the chatter was about projects completed, adding staff to meet demand and how good the pipelines are. Many attendees from 2016 couldn’t attend because they were too busy developing and installing to take time out for the Expo. Minnesota has worked through its SunEdison problem, and Xcel has embraced community solar. In addition, many companies are making inroads into the new Illinois REC market. So, projects are being built, and people are making money.
For Xcel to embrace community solar, however, it decided developers couldn’t aggregate several 1 MW blocks on the same plot of land, but must treat it as a much larger system. That sounds like a negative, but for local developers it’s a godsend. The restrictions discourage out-of-state EPCs from entering the market, leaving this fertile ground for local companies to make hay.
It’s not all good news, of course. New policy measures or changes from utilities and legislatures in Iowa, Indiana and other Midwest states appear designed to stifle the efforts of solar installers large and small. Many also expressed uncertainty due to the prospect of paying higher costs, if the recent section 201 trade case leads to new out-of-country module tariffs. So, there are a few clouds on the scene despite an overall sunny outlook.
Looking at the whole picture, I came away from the Midwest Solar Expo energized and convinced that the future for solar in the Midwest is bright and that it will not be left behind as the Solar Century moves forward.
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