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Minnesota's solar capacity jumped almost 50 percent last year

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Part of a community solar garden in Rockford, Minn.
Part of a community solar garden in Rockford, Minn. This type of array is driving solar's growth in Minnesota.
Matthew Hintz for MPR News file

Minnesota's solar energy capacity increased 47 percent last year, according to a new report from the state's Department of Commerce.

The state's total solar capacity is now about 882 megawatts — enough to power over 100,000 homes — according to the new data. 

Solar capacity has increased the past several years in Minnesota, spurring thousands of new jobs and helping renewable energy bypass nuclear to become the state's second-largest electricity source.

Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley attributed the growth to policy and the more than 100 community solar projects that have cropped up across the state. 

"It's a combination of the policy choices we've made and the creation of the solar garden method of investing in solar energy," he said. "People across the state have shown an interest in doing that, and I think that reflects public interest in owning the future of solar power in Minnesota."

Community solar gardens are shared solar arrays where customers can buy a share of the energy they produce for their homes, without needing to install panels of their own. In all, they accounted for 508 megawatts of Minnesota's total solar capacity. 

A little over 1 percent of the Minnesota's electricity is generated by solar, and while coal is still Minnesota's largest source of electricity, the state is moving toward more renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Xcel Energy is phasing out its largest coal-fired electricity plants and has set a goal of providing carbon-free electricity by 2050.

A recent state report found the electricity sector's carbon emissions were about 7.4 million tons in 2016 — down from 13.6 million tons in 2005.  Commerce Department projections say solar alone will generate more than 1,000 megawatts in 2019. 

This is also the final year that residents can take advantage of a 30 percent tax credit for installing a home solar energy system. The Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit program begins phasing out 2020. 

Kelley said the Commerce Department hasn't been considering additional financial incentives for solar installations. 

Paul Huttner contributed to this report.