Griffin Dooling’s Blue Horizon Energy in Minnetonka now has 50 employees, one full-time and one part-time in 2012. The solar company is set to grow 50% to 60% this year alone, Dooling said. Growth should be sustainable, he said, because of a 10-year extension of renewable energy investment tax credits 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 Industry Association.
The new law should also add historic investments in underserved communities, expansion of connected manufacturing in the United States and a 40% 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.
Question: Will the new law help Minnesota’s solar industry reach its goal of producing 10% of its electricity by 2030?
A: This demand-side stability is essential to allow our industry to not only meet the immediate needs of projects today, but to plan for the long-term future instead of artificial fire-fighting rocks every few years. On the surface, “stability” may not be a very exciting concept when compared to some of the flashier 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.
Question: What is the driver for 2023 and beyond?
A: The second most impactful part of this bill is that it makes new and existing stimulus programs more flexible. For example: It allows commercial businesses new opportunities to take advantage of clean energy tax credits, greatly simplifies the path for civic and nonprofit organizations to use solar energy, and provides increased incentives for specific low-income and with energy challenges.
For example, hours after the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, we were at a city council meeting in Wayzata, pursuing a direct purchase of solar equipment to maximize their financial savings. The new law allows civil entities to receive a direct payment of the 30% tax credit instead of seeking a partnership with a third-party for-profit organization. This change is estimated to quadruple the city’s savings potential 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.
Question: How fast has your business grown in revenue and employment over the past decade?
A: Over the past decade, our business has grown an average of 30% per year, which has begun to accelerate in recent years. Last year we grew approximately 40%. This year we are on track for a 50-60% increase.
One of the most important things we’ve embarked on over the last 18 months is an extensive team building effort. This has been an important transition for me – from directly managing each employee to working with a team around me.
Question: What about employment in Minnesota’s solar industry?
A: The industry includes approximately 4,000 individuals working on projects in the state. Projections made before the law called for employment to grow 50% to 100% by 2030. We have not yet made updated projections. I would intuitively estimate that we would need 200% to 300% workforce growth to meet potential.
Question: The solar industry has been hampered recently by China issues/tariffs, chip shortages, etc. How do you grow with that overload? Do you have any evidence of an overriding movement?
A: Overall, this challenge must be managed through a combination of flexibility within today’s supply chain while also building a more resilient supply chain. The bill creates both demand-side and supply-side incentives for the domestic production of solar components that will help accelerate and significantly strengthen the domestic supply chain. Combined with the strengthening efforts supported by the previous semiconductor “Chips Act,” the solar supply chain three to five years from now will have a much stronger domestic footing.
Question: Is there anything else important to know about the solar industry in Minnesota?
A: Our service “interconnection” process in Minnesota has become extremely overburdened and it will take real leadership from local politicians to help improve the interconnection process. A combination of legislation and policy work in the upcoming session. Xcel Energy has not made enough progress. (The state fined the company for the slow connection.)
It’s really important to put the state in a position to maximize its share of the trillions of dollars in private investment that the new law will unlock. Beyond this, we will need to prioritize and support local workforce development to increase the workforce of skilled tradespeople required to bring these projects together.