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Minnesota Power announces bigger rebates for rooftop solar

Minnesota Power on Wednesday unveiled plans to triple the size of rebates available to its customers who install solar panels on their rooftops, garages or yards by adding an extra $1 million annually to the program for the next three years.

Customers could receive up to $20,000 back on the new solar panels they install, with the rebate program covering nearly one-third of the initial cost of installing solar, depending on the size of the system.

A typical residential customer installing a 5-kilowatt solar system could receive roughly $6,000 in Minnesota Power "SolarSense" rebates.

That 5kw system, about average of what has been installed locally so far, would produce about 6,416 kilowatt hours of electricity annually, nearly 70 percent of an average residential customer's needs.

Minnesota Power, in its solar proposal filed Wednesday with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, also proposes more money for "solar education and outreach, research and development, program development and delivery, and the creation of a new solar pilot program for low-income customers."

"Our customers' interest in solar energy continues to grow and there are multiple ways we are seeking to respond to this trend based on individual customer preferences," said Tina Koecher, manager of customer solutions for Minnesota Power. "Expanding the SolarSense program, for example, will allow us to provide additional incentives and expertise to people who have homes or businesses in locations with plenty of sun and want to produce solar energy on site."

The homeowner solar rebate proposal is in addition to Minnesota Power's proposal for its first community solar gardens that will be reviewed by the PUC Thursday. The community solar garden is designed for customers who want to go solar but who either rent or don't have a home or business site that is well-suited for generating electricity from the sun.

Minnesota Power is required by state mandate to encourage energy conservation and renewable energy, including solar electricity from all sources, including small rooftop solar and large commercial-scale solar arrays. In addition to smaller-scale solar initiatives, Minnesota Power expects to begin producing electricity at its 10-megawatt Camp Ripley solar farm later this year.