The New Year brings with it an opportunity to explore all that 2016 has in store for the cleantech industry. This blog is the first in our new Q&A series that takes a deeper look at
the topics that matter most, both to our readers and to industry innovators.
Our first Q&A looks at Community Solar and energy policy in general. We spoke with Allen Gleckner, a Senior Policy Associate with Fresh Energy. Fresh Energy works to shape and drive realistic energy policies that benefit all, and is the only independent, non-profit in Minnesota devoted exclusively to energy policy.
EBS: Tell me more about your role.
Allen: I lead our work on community solar, solar financing, and transmission planning. These policy areas require a lot of work at the state legislature and regulatory body (Public Utilities Commission), and at the regional planning level (Midcontinent Independent System Operator). I am active in both educating and engaging key decision makers about what policies have worked in other markets and how we can implement them in Minnesota.
EBS: What industry trend do you find most interesting?
Allen: As new programs like community solar roll out in Minnesota, we’re seeing a much greater focus on what works best for consumers and the public. Our goal is to build on that momentum and sharpen our focus on clean energy options that work for people of all incomes and backgrounds.
EBS: How is Fresh Energy helping to make that happen?
Allen: Our ‘Solar for All’ initiative in particular is focused on expanding solar access to low income customers, improving solar financing options, and getting the grid rules right so that solar projects are able connect to the electric system more quickly and efficiently. An added benefit of increasing customer options and access is that it will help drive costs down even more across the whole market.
EBS: What actions would you like to see solar companies take to benefit the market as a whole?
Allen: Solar companies have already started working to drive down overall installed costs for all customers. Those lower costs benefit everyone by expanding access. We’re working on additional solutions, specifically for low income and underserved communities, to build on that work.
EBS: What do you feel are the other key components to get there?
Allen: If solar projects can’t connect to the grid, then all the financing tools in the world can’t create a robust solar market that works for people of all incomes. In Minnesota, we’re working on updating our interconnection rules to make the process work better for customers, utilities, and project developers.
EBS: What is Fresh Energy’s role in meeting this goal?
Allen: As an independent policy nonprofit, our focus is on implementing policies and rules that work. Because we have no financial stake in the outcome of our work, we’re able to work with utilities, developers, and consumers to push for the best solutions out there.
EBS: What do you think will most disrupt the solar market in the year ahead?
Allen: While the extension of the federal tax credit for solar projects is worth celebrating, we still need to maintain focus on working with lawmakers and regulators, in order to put policies in place that will ensure a sustainable and competitive clean energy market—one that continues to provide options for consumers.
EBS: If you could say one thing to the readers of this blog about taking action to support your goals, what would that be?
Allen: When there are so many competing interests involved, an independent voice is critical in order to move forward with a solution that works. Fresh Energy has served as that independent voice on energy policy for over twenty years. By serving the public interest, we are able to push for visionary policies, while accepting the need to take those incremental improvements where they can happen.
We thank Allen for taking this time to speak with us, and thank the team at Fresh Energy for the work that they are doing. Stay tuned for future explorations of the trends impacting the cleantech industry in the year ahead.