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Minnesota is on pace to quadruple its solar energy capacity this year

In the first three months of 2017, Minnesota's doubled the solar capacity it had last year.

Minnesota's going to be getting a lot more energy from the sun in 2017.

According to the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Minnesota has almost doubled the solar capacity – how much solar power it can produce – in the past few months.

After adding 207 megawatts of new solar electric capacity last year, Minnesota has just added 203 megawatts – in the first quarter of 2017 alone. To put that into perspective, a single megawatt – which was all Minnesota could produce in 2009 – can power 140 homes.

The department held a meeting on Friday to discuss where Minnesota's solar future. And according to commissioner Mike Rothman, the future is bright.

Rothman said that solar jobs increased by 44 percent in 2016, so about 4,000 people are now working in the industry. And that's only expected to keep growing.

As of March 31, Minnesota's producing 447 megawatts. By the end of the year, officials hope to nearly double that and be producing more than 800 – enough to power 112,000 homes. Businesses, communities and utility-scale projects can also take part.

Minnesota has some goals for solar energy. In 2013, the state passed the Solar Energy Standard which requires investor-owned utilities to get 1.5 percent of their electric power from the sun by the end of 2020. And by 2030, the sun should provide 10 percent.

Even though solar energy is growing fast, it still only produces less than one percent of the state's total electricity.

“Solar power in Minnesota today is where wind power was 10 to 20 years ago,” said Rothman. “Wind now provides nearly 18 percent of Minnesota’s total electricity generation. Solar has the potential to grow even faster and larger in the years ahead.”

Where's all this solar energy coming from?

A variety of sources make up the solar production.

More people are putting out panels to fuel their homes – and many businesses are doing the same.

Xcel Energy, for example, is working to provide more renewable energy. It offers some different solar options to customers here.

That's just one of more than 100 companies using renewable energy sources in Minnesota.

Communities are also installing solar panels. Lake Nokomis Beach will be getting 18 solar panels placed on top of a new shelter right near the popular Sandcastle restaurant.

And last fall, the largest solar energy farm in the Midwest opened in North Branch. The Chisago County facility is made up of more than 440,000 solar panels and can generate enough electricity to power 20,000 homes.

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