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Minnesota solar energy capacity spiked in early 2017

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Solar panels at Camp Ripley mirror the clouds
Camp Ripley's solar panels mirror the clouds on April 13, 2017, outside Little Falls, Minn.
Paul Middelstaedt for MPR News file

Growth in solar energy is continuing at a rapid pace in Minnesota, with nearly as much solar capacity added in the first three months of 2017 as in all of 2016, state officials said Friday. 

Minnesota had just one megawatt of solar capacity in 2009. Now it's 447 megawatts, or enough to power about 63,000 homes. 

State Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said growth will continue throughout 2017, with several large projects coming online. 

"It's not alternative anymore. It's mainstream energy. This is like what wind was 10 or 20 years ago, where now we have 18 percent of our total electricity generated by wind," he said.

Rothman said growth is fueled by both small rooftop projects and utility-scale solar facilities. Minnesota is expected to have 800 megawatts of solar capacity by the end of the year, he said. 

A state goal set in 2013 calls for solar to produce 10 percent of electricity by 2030. It's currently only 1 percent. Rothman credits the law for some of the growth but says solar energy prices have also dropped significantly.