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MN Takes Steps to Simplify Solar Panel Installation Process

The Minnesota Department of Commerce said it will start working with local governments to create a more streamlined process for installing solar panels.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce announced Friday that it has chosen the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society (MRES) to coordinate efforts for the Minnesota Solar Challenge, which hopes to educate local governments on how to simplify the permitting and regulatory process of installing solar panels on rooftops.

The MRES is a nonprofit organization that advocates for renewable energies in Minnesota by educating and demonstrating practical applications.

“Expanding Minnesota’s solar capacity is essential to the development of our new energy economy and meeting the goals of our nation-leading Renewable Energy Standard,” Commerce Department Commissioner Mike Rothman said in a statement. “A critical part of that effort is working together with local leaders to change existing permitting or zoning barriers standing in the way of solar development, one community at a time.”

The MRES’ efforts will be aimed at reducing costs, which have increased due to delays in the permit-granting process, according to a Pioneer Press report. Such delays have become common for cities trying to install solar panels under the Minnesota Solar Challenge, which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sunshot Initiative. The program gives out grants for projects that aim to make solar energy more affordable. (For example, the Department of Energy gave Maplewood-based 3M Company $4.4 million for a solar technology project last year.)

In addition to increased costs caused by permitting delays, some cities also require building inspections before solar panels can be installed, which can add up to $1,000 to the cost of a project, the Pioneer Press reported.

Many city and local governments currently have differing restrictions on solar panels, while some have none at all, according to the St. Paul newspaper. The MRES will help local governments adopt procedures similar to those used in Minneapolis and St. Paul as part of the Minnesota Solar Challenge—one of 22 projects nationwide that received grants through the Rooftop Solar Challenge, part of the Department of Energy’s Sunshot Initiative

The MRES will partner with an independent consultant from CR Planning, a Minneapolis-based firm that facilitates local and regional decisions on issues like natural resources, as well as Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs), which advocate for renewable energy programs in communities across the state. CR Planning will provide technical assistance to local governments on permit and zoning issues, and CERTs will be in charge of the education and recruiting efforts for cities and counties that aren’t currently participating in the program, the Department of Commerce said.

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