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Story missed the mark on state’s Made in Minnesota solar program

Pat Doyle’s article “Is Minnesota’s subsidy of the solar industry a good investment – or a cautionary tale?” fails to mention that the vast majority of the “perks” mentioned didn’t flow to Silicon Energy. Indeed, if the state is picking winners and losers, as Art Rolnick is quoted as stating, why has 80 percent of the “perks” (incentives) over the last few years flowed to a single company based in Bloomington, and further, why is that company not mentioned in the article? They are the real winners, and the article never even suggests that others benefited.

Last year, one Made in Minnesota manufacturer cornered over 95 percent of the Made in Minnesota solar incentives from the state. Yet Doyle failed to report the mere existence of that company, or the other two solar companies in Minnesota that now are qualified to receive state incentives. 


Silicon Energy, as a result of the Made in Minnesota solar legislation, invested over $10 million in the state and located its manufacturing plant in the most economically challenged part of the state as a result of a solar incentive that flowed not directly to us, but to customers who installed solar. Silicon Energy has had to compete, within the “Made in Minnesota” market, against a cheaper competitor whose products have historically been largely manufactured in Shanghai, China. Do you think this deserves some mention?

The fact is, there would not be much of a Minnesota solar industry without the Made in Minnesota legislation. Installers, electricians, architects and balance of systems represent over 50 percent of the installed cost of a solar system. There are now four companies qualified and competing to receive “Made in Minnesota” under the current law and prices have dramatically decreased while solar installations have increased in the state since legislation was passed. Why were these facts omitted from the article?

And it may not fit the author’s story line about political donations, but a factual look would show our supporters sent contributions to over half a dozen Republicans. But you didn’t seek truth, only sensationalism.

For the record:

  • Silicon Energy has never been in default of any loan agreement or lease agreement in Minnesota. All payments have been as agreed.
  • Contrary to assertions otherwise, Silicon Energy has not been the recipient of any state subsidy. Our loans and leases are at market rates and guaranteed by our majority owner.
  • Since Silicon Energy’s related campaign contributions over the past 6-7 years are described in detail, where is the comparative analysis for donations made by our primary competitor (who received the vast majority of incentives to date)?
  • Not one solar expert is quoted in your article, instead only Rolnick, who has no particular solar expertise. 
Silicon Energy has historically struggled for a variety of reasons in Minnesota, including the state incentive structure, the fact that our products are differentiated from the standard commodity module design, and because the legislation (as modified as an accommodation to a competitor) allows assembly of solar modules to qualify as “made in Minnesota.”

I see this article a classic case of lazy, biased reporting that is targeting a single company that is struggling in an economically depressed area. 
Meanwhile, stadiums get built for rich owners, millions fly out the door to Destination Medical Centers, the Chamber lines up for business tax breaks, millions are spent on campaigns, and you go after a small company that is helping to diversify the Iron Range towards renewable energy manufacturing. A small company that pays union wages and benefits, full property taxes, and whose owner has personally guaranteed every loan. And one of the few new manufacturing companies that have risked their capital to invest on the Iron Range.

Shame on you.

John Carroll 
is senior vice president of Silicon Energy.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Riley Curran on 05/15/2015 - 02:10 pm.

    Burn, or rather sunburned!!!!!

    Thanks for posting the reply, I didn’t really understand the negativity outlined in the aforementioned article, so I am happy to see the reply from the company.

    As a general note, the writing about renewable energy in this country is generally pretty mediocre/misinformed (including Economist, Forbes, etc). There is too much complexity and too much money spent on creating even more confusion, it’s tough.

    My favorite source is Amory Lovins of the The Rocky Mountain Institute for anybody wanting the best information. I will not pretend it’s super easy to understand, but it’s worth it and super fascinating!

  2. Submitted by Sue Halligan on 05/15/2015 - 02:57 pm.

    Rocky Mountain Institute

    I agree with the previous commenter. Go to the Rocky Mountain Institute website and get plugged in to the real story about real science and real progress (or not) in developing clean energy in this country, and some others.

  3. Submitted by Kelly Guncheon on 05/15/2015 - 03:55 pm.

    Excellent rebuttal

    even without this info I’d thought that Mr. Rolnick had missed the marl, which is highly unusual.

    Thank Mr. Carroll.

  4. Submitted by Kathleen Doran-Norton on 05/16/2015 - 05:43 pm.

    I was surprised by Pat Doyle’s article too

    I don’t know much about energy policy, but we were interested in putting a ‘made in Minnesota’ solar array on our house this year. So were 545 others in the Xcel system.

    Alas, our lottery number was a little over 300, and only 248 residential applications were drawn (see http://www.mn.gov/commerce/energy/images/2015-mim-lottery-results.pdf). That sounds like around 45% of those who were interested were lucky enough to ‘buy Minnesota’. So if we decide to take the plunge, we’ll put Chinese-made arrays on our house. That’s better cost-wise for us and others who didn’t make the cut. Is it good for Minnesota?

    It does seem like the US solar business has been jerked around by government policy over the last several years. If Minnesota or the feds want to support or put the kabosh on solar arrays or wind or ethanol (or coal, oil, and natural gas) it seems like it would be best to phase out that incentive/support……or phase in a tax (in the case of fossil fuels).

    Any business works best if it knows what’s coming down the road.

  5. Submitted by Mouli Vaidyanathan on 05/27/2015 - 04:23 pm.

    Commodity market

    Will we grow pineapples in Minnesota. NO. Because it will be very expensive to do so and pineapples are better grown in other places (mostly non US countries). Why, because we have to build green houses that will cost a lot of capital making it non-competitive.

    Now, should we invest in solar panel manufacturing. NO. Because there are 400 other manufacturers already in the world market. Adding two or three more from Minnesota will only benefit the two or three more in Minnesota. None of these two or three more have any advantage over the 400 others. Therefore Minnesota is subsidies with no potential benefit.

    If you want to compete in the solar panel manufacturing there has to be large scale investments to bring economy of scale. Adding 10 to 20 MW of solar panel mfg when the market is 10,000 to 15,000 MW is like adding one drop to the ocean (at high cost).

    If the target is to create jobs, the installation jobs cannot be imported from Tibet.

    I see the trajectory of the authors to be shallow in substance because one is placing political posturing while the other is attempting to do something with very little market knowledge for an industry in a depressed location.

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