The president of the Minnesota Solar Association says the new federal investment law should accelerate growth

Griffin Dooling’s Blue Horizon Energy in Minnetonka now has 50 employees, up from one full-time and one part-time in 2012. The solar company is set to grow 50 percent to 60 percent this year alone, Dooling said. Growth should be sustained, he said, because of a 10-year extension of tax credits for renewable energy investments included in the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act.

“This bill creates a clear path for businesses and consumers looking to go solar over the next decade,” said Dooling, also president of the Minnesota Solar Energy Association.

The new law should also add historic investment in underserved communities, expansion of connected manufacturing in the United States, and a 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels.

Dooling spoke about the new law and the challenges facing the solar industry in a wide-ranging interview, edited below for clarity and length.

Q: Will the new law help Minnesota’s solar industry reach its goal of generating 10% of its electricity by 2030?

A: This demand-side stability is critical to enable our industry to not only meet the immediate needs of projects today, but also to plan for the long-term future, rather than extinguish artificial stimulus scales every few years. At first glance, “sustainability” may not be a very exciting concept compared to some of the more flashy parts of the Inflation Reduction Act, but it will be critical to expand Minnesota’s solar share from about 3.5% today to 10% – plus until 2030

Q: What is the driver for 2023 and beyond?

A: The second most impactful part of this bill is that it makes new and existing incentive programs more flexible. For example: It allows commercial businesses new opportunities to use clean energy tax credits, significantly streamlines the path for civic and nonprofit organizations to deploy solar energy, and provides increased incentives for specific low-income and energy-challenged communities.

For example, a few hours after the Inflation Reduction Act passed, we were at a Wayzata City Council meeting pursuing a direct purchase of solar equipment to maximize their financial savings. The new law allows private entities to take a direct payment of the 30% investment tax credit instead of requiring a partnership with a third-party for-profit organization. This change is estimated to quadruple the city’s potential for savings over the life of the project. We’ve seen similar circumstances at several other projects just this week, including a large industrial facility in Iowa and a Minnesota-based manufacturer.

Q: How fast has your business grown in revenue and employment over the past decade?

A: Over the past decade, our business has grown at an average of 30% annually, which has begun to accelerate in recent years. Last year we grew by about 40%. This year we are on track for 50-60% growth.

One of the most important things we’ve undertaken in the last 18 months is the extensive effort to build the team. This was an important transition for me — from directly managing each employee to working with a team around me.

Q: What about employment in Minnesota’s solar industry?

A: The industry includes approximately 4,000 individuals working on projects in the state. Projections made prior to the Act called for this employment to grow 50% to 100% by 2030. We have not yet made updated projections. Intuitively, I would estimate that we would need a workforce growth of 200% to 300% to meet the potential.

Q: The solar industry has recently been hampered by issues/tariffs in China, chip shortages, etc. How do you grow with this overhang? Any evidence of movement on land?

A: Overall, this challenge must be managed through a combination of flexibility in today’s supply chain while building a more resilient supply chain. The bill creates both demand-side and supply-side incentives for local manufacturing of solar components, which will help significantly accelerate and strengthen the domestic supply chain. Combined with the targeting efforts supported by the earlier semiconductor “Chip Act,” the solar supply chain in three to five years will have a much stronger domestic foundation.

Q: Is there anything else important to know about the solar industry in Minnesota?

A: Our utility “interconnection” process in Minnesota has become extremely overburdened and will require real leadership from local politicians to help streamline the interconnection process. A mix of legislative and policy work in the next session. Xcel Energy did not make enough progress. (The state fined the utility for the slow connection.)

It’s really important that the state be able to maximize its share of the trillions of dollars in private investment that the new law will unlock. We will also need to prioritize and support local workforce development to increase the workforce of skilled tradespeople needed to deliver these projects.

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