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Renewable energy implementation law I was unaware of....?

 
pollinator
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So we are rural (Minnesota) and grid-connected without a renewable source of electricity although I continue to think about adding such in the future.  My wife was conversing with another from the same state with other person stating that they were now told that they could not have their new barn powered as stand-alone (off-grid) solar since they already have *other* buildings on the same property connected to the main commercial electric grid.  Their new barn is several hundred feet away from their grid-tied main buildings and they were hoping to install off-grid solar to power lights and other light-duty power implementation in that structure.  The conclusion at this point is that it would be illegal to do so.....they were told they would need to have the power company install connection to the barn, and *then* they could install solar on the barn with grid-intertie along with Minnesota PUC's reimbursement schedule.  I was baffled at the legal reasoning here, summarized by my wife's friend (a lawyer) as an issue pertaining to the Interstate Commerce Clause (..???..):


"......basically running solar off grid would take business away from an already established energy business (Xcel Energy), the idea is that if everyone went off-grid it would hurt interstate commerce and therefore isn't allowed. There's a lovely case out there about a farmer who grew too much wheat for himself and wasn't allowed because it could hurt interstate commerce. Great video in this article (all very confusing, just know the government can control anything they consider interstate commerce): https://abaforlawstudents.com/2018/08/31/quimbee-wickard-v-filburn/   ...."

Has this been discussed on this forum before?  Has anyone else wanting to implement stand-alone renewable on an otherwise grid-intertied property run up against this issue?  Thanks!
 
pollinator
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In many states, you're not allowed to have solar unless it's attached to and feeding the electrical grid. There are exceptions for people who live in areas where the grid is unavailable. When I started researching solar I learned that there are two types of solar panels--grid tie, and standalone. Grid tie work ONLY when there is power flowing in from the grid. Once the grid goes down (power outage, whatever) the solar panels stop working. This is why most urban systems have a battery bank built in. People tend to get upset when their expensive system doesn't work when the power goes out.

When I expressed my concern that my mother was on oxygen and I couldn't have the power failing, the salesman said "Get a generator."
 
pollinator
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Wow. If that's true, it's completely FUBAR.
 
John Weiland
pollinator
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Although I haven't drilled down into the law any further to see, quantitatively, at *what* point one is considered having an impact on interstate commerce, as a concept I'm left wondering just when a home garden is beginning to produce a quantity or type of food that interferes with interstate commerce.  When it comes to energy production that is NOT grid-intertied, at what point does one's self-consumed power production become something that interferes with or impacts interstate commerce?  Seems terribly arbitrary......
 
pollinator
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Wouldn't surprise me if it was in the building permit or zoning rules in some areas.  Companies like xcel spend lots of lobby money to make rules like those to protect their monopoly.  

 
pollinator
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John, can you find a link to any Minnesota law that prohibits non-grid tied solar? Was the solar these friends were inquiring about for their barn a full system, I.E. a charge controller and batteries in addition to the inverter and panels (A far more expensive system)? It just seems the Interstate Commerce Clause being invoked doesn’t make any sense in the context of disallowing non-grid tied solar vs grid tied, as the grid tied has potential for competing  power companies and is something some states prohibit. In Minnesota it seems it is subsidized in addition to being heavily regulated. I did see where they are restricting the layout of the panels to allow easier access to the roofs for fire fighters that solar companies have complained about.

Perhaps the worry is that a powerful enough solar system on an accessory building could potentially be DIY’ed to connect back to the grid tied structures, perhaps to provide power during a blackout and possibly causing a serious safety issue with back feed to the utility pole and electrocute those working to restore power.


 
gardener
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John,

Is your barn at present connected to the grid?  If so, I may understand what is going wrong.

I also looked into grid-tie solar a few years ago and one of the more expensive items was a piece of equipment that connects the solar panels to the grid.  Basically, when the grid is down and your solar panels are making electricity, without this device they are probably sending electricity down a line that should otherwise be a broken and therefore dead line.  But if you are feeding electricity backwards, that is from the solar panels back to the grid, you could electrocute an electrical worker if he is working on a line that was dead one moment and suddenly came to life.  I have a similar type of device that I use to power my house with a generator.  My generator connects to a little auxiliary circuit breaker panel that itself connects to the regular breaker box.  I have 8 dedicated lines, all of which tie directly to 8 circuits in the house.  This allows me to power most of my house on a generator.  But I have to select the circuits manually and the little breaker panel.  Each of the breaker switches in the mini box has a dedicated, break-before-make switch, ensuring that I can never accidentally feed electricity down a line and kill an electrical worker.  

Some people make an extension cord with 2 male ends, plug one into the generator and the other into a conveniently placed outlet and turn off the main breaker.  This does work, but is dangerous and illegal.  if someone were to turn that breaker back on while the generator was still running, there exists the possibility of a dead lineman.  My point is that if we are talking about a grid tie system, these things need to be considered.

Another issue is that believe it or not, solar panels present a sort of shock hazard especially if they are mounted on a rooftop.  If a fire breaks out and water gets sprayed on the solar panels, there exists a possibility for the firefighters to get an electrical shock.  This is because as long as there is sunlight on the panels, they will generate electricity--they don't shut off.

John, is it possible that either of these scenarios is the reason for your difficulty?  There may be ways around but I suspect there is some red tape to go through.

I hope things work out,

Eric
 
pollinator
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Does the law require that the entire solar panel array feed into the grid? Or would it allow, say, one single panel from the array to feed into the grid, while the rest of the panels feed into a completely separate off-grid system? And is such a thing doable, with no actual electrical connections between the two systems?
 
pollinator
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I know that if one lives in the city and it offers a sewage system. You have to use their sewage system vs just a septic system.

Likewise in a city if someone gets a washer and dryer, they probably have to get a permit to run a gas line to it, and make sure it is exhaust is vented properly. And they probably want you to send the soapy dirty water to the sewage system vs just sending it into your backyard probably because someone abused that at some point, most likely a laundry mat.

I can see the concern that someone plugged a home-made solar system into their house and then someone working on the poles got shocked and died and so they made a new law that says that if you have the solar array at your house, you will have to get an electrical engineer to sign off that they have it completely separate and such.

What I would however do is visit city hall or your county folks and get a permit for it. As long as they okay it you will be in the green. Sometimes WhatsApp doesn't provide the most localized news. So while said laws might be true for someone with a 1/7 acre city lot, with strict city laws. Someone just 10 miles away might have completely different laws that govern them.

Also if the person was trying to get an occupancy permit for the barn then they might be told that they have to get it connected to the grid. But if they had told the government official that they will need a few solar panels on the barn roof for some LED lights for the chickens. The city official/inspector will probably allow it. At other times it might be better to just get a permit for say just two solar panel for the carport and then install the other 20 after that gets inspected and allowed.  Because if you ask you ask to put 20 panels on a carport they might ask you why you need so much and then when you say your grand-daughter and her mom is moving back in, then a human element kicks in and they might say it has to be connected to the grid.
 
John Weiland
pollinator
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James Whitelaw wrote:
Perhaps the worry is that a powerful enough solar system on an accessory building could potentially be DIY’ed to connect back to the grid tied structures, perhaps to provide power during a blackout and possibly causing a serious safety issue with back feed to the utility pole and electrocute those working to restore power.




I'll just start some responses with another update from the property owner who lives near Hugo MN in Washington County (just north of the St. Paul/Minneapolis suburbs).  I *assume* that they are outside of the Hugo city limits but don't know this for sure.....would suspect so by the size of the property>>>

"UPDATE: we have to get electricity to the barn to be able to add solar. It's illegal to run off-grid when you live in an area that has utility service. Still thinking of adding solar, but electric to the barn is definitely more important asap!" -- Property Owner of solar installation in question.

As an aside, I looked up the County Code for Clay County MN where I live and it *seems* pretty clear that there would be no problem with installing a non-grid-intertied (i.e stand-alone) solar system for 'personal' use ( https://claycountymn.gov/DocumentCenter/View/8659/Renewable-Energy-Ordinance-2018-02-PDF  and note in particular item #6 under subdivision 2). It did not elaborate on what constituted this level of use, but I suspect the zoning board commission would let me know if I were sizing too large a system for their comfort level.  I do see your point about the safety aspect and have always had that in mind if we were to go that route in the future.....since our own local power coop would make that a priority for any system intertied with their grid, understandably.
 
John Weiland
pollinator
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Eric Hanson wrote:

John, is it possible that either of these scenarios is the reason for your difficulty?  There may be ways around but I suspect there is some red tape to go through.

I hope things work out,

Eric



Thanks, Eric, and others who have responded to this thread.   The barn in question is about 400 - 500 ft from the other 'main' buildings and home on the property and appears from their social network posts that it is being erected at this time.  As it is a pole building, I suspect completion of the building by the end of this week with any incidentals to go in over the weeks following.  Again, I totally understand the safety issues *if* the building solar is to be inter-tied with the power feeding the other buildings on the property.  But their intention was to have stand-alone power with inverters and battery banks for powering the barn.  This would include a new well and pump for the well.  From the verbiage, however, it does not seem to be coming down to a safety issue with the zoning people....rather an issue with "who is providing the power".  But I will continue to try to gather additional information to clarify.
 
John Weiland
pollinator
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S Bengi wrote:
Also if the person was trying to get an occupancy permit for the barn then they might be told that they have to get it connected to the grid. But if they had told the government official that they will need a few solar panels on the barn roof for some LED lights for the chickens. The city official/inspector will probably allow it. At other times it might be better to just get a permit for say just two solar panel for the carport and then install the other 20 after that gets inspected and allowed.  Because if you ask you ask to put 20 panels on a carport they might ask you why you need so much and then when you say your grand-daughter and her mom is moving back in, then a human element kicks in and they might say it has to be connected to the grid.



At this point, I've read nothing on the intended desires for the barn that would indicate it might be or become a dwelling of any kind for people,.....just a new, well thought-out, and self-sustaining barn for animals.  I mean, if I were to finally install solar on my own property I would probably go for a bit of overkill on the panels simply to compensate for the location not far south of the Canadian border.  But that overkill still would not be so much that it would put a dent in the power coop's monthly sales and generation.  And all of this would agree to the terms of the coop if I *did* decide to intertie with their system.    

And unfortunately, I don't know what kind of mess would ensue if one were to hook up only a few panels to the grid and leave the others as stand-alone.  For the property owners in question, the real stunner is the price tag on 400 - 500 ft of installation fee from Excel energy for powering the barn.....even before solar is added!

If I find any new information on this that clarifies the issue, I will post here again as the situation develops.  Thanks!
 
S Bengi
pollinator
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Personally I would have just told the permit folks that I am going to hook it up to a generator. And after the barn has been setup. I would plug in my battery generator with maybe 4 solar panels attached to it to power a few light bulbs in the barn.

I wonder what part of the permitting process states that he has to get grid electric vs just plug in a generator. Also to wire a basement or shed or barn does not require the power company to come on your property.
You can do most of the trenching and cable run yourself and then just pay an electrician to connect the actual wires to the outlets/switch/circuit breaker. And if it is an owner builder they don't even need an electrician to sign off on it. Unless it is a commercial building. If that is the case then even your knobs for your faucet nas to be NSF certified and the dimensions has to be documented and filed with the permitting office.

I wonder if your friend is talking to the electric company or if he is talking to the county/city permitting office. And if he is framing/explaining his ideas in a way fits the simpler mould of the permitting officer handbook.

It might make sense for your friend to talk to an electrician in the area that get barn permits done off-grid.
He could also run the AWG 4/0 gauge wire from his house. It's about $1/ft so $500 for the 500ft.
https://www.homedepot.com/b/Electrical-Wire/4-0/1000/500/N-5yc1vZbm7vZ1z10lzmZ1z10m2mZ1z10mxd?NCNI-5&experienceName=default&lowerBound=0&upperBound=600




 
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Its been thirty years since I lived in Spokane but at that time there was a city ordinance that the only entity allowed to generate power in city limits was Avista Power.
Avista ran the Spokane river through turbines in the city limits
As written it made a de-facto lawbreaker out of anyone whom had an automobile or other generator / alternator.

Of course it was indefensible but it made a good start at discouraging competition,

As with the rest of "the rule of law" how much money and time do you want to devote to ensuring you can behave as if you are free?
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