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Report forecasts solar power surge in the Midwest

Solar projects with a combined capacity of 78.6 GW are registered in the interconnection queues of three system operators covering the Midwest, according to a Fitch Solutions report that predicts a new wave of solar power installations in the 12-state region.

With their harsh winters, the 12 states have some of the lowest solar power capacities in the nation. Yet Fitch Solutions forecasts the Midwest will add 100 GW of solar capacity additions over the next ten years. The data is based on an analysis of the interconnection queues of the Midcontinent ISO, PJM Interconnection and Southwest Power Pool.

Strengthened renewable energy targets by cities, states and utilities in the region, improvements in technology and the adoption of community solar programs will drive the boom in the Midwest, the report said.

"The high volume of potential solar capacity growth within the proposed project requests made in 2018 and 2019 signals a growing interest in developing projects within the region," the report said. "We note that while many of these projects will not be constructed, we still expect a substantial amount of capacity to come online in the next five years, contributing to our overall positive outlook for the U.S. solar sector."

The report defines the Midwest as the 12-state region around the Great Lakes and Great Plains. Collectively, the states have 2,579 MW of solar capacity, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

As of the second quarter of 2019, Minnesota is ranked 13th in the nation for solar capacity, with 1,206 MW; Indiana is ranked 24th, with 354 MW; and Ohio is ranked 28th, with 231 MW.

Looking forward, Indiana has the strongest potential, with nearly 15 GW in the pipeline, followed by Ohio, Illinois and Michigan, according to the Fitch Solutions report. The Dakotas have the smallest pipelines of projects under development.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers in August signed an executive order to push the state to achieve 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050. That state's capital, Madison, has also committed to 100% renewable electricity, as has Chicago.

Utility companies in the Midwest have also expanded renewable targets. DTE Energy of Detroit in 2019 announced plans to become carbon neutral. NiSource Inc. subsidiary Northern Indiana Public Service Co. recently announced it is seeking 2,300 MW of solar capacity, including some solar-plus-storage systems, as a part of its plan to phase out coal-fired generation. Xcel Energy Inc., which in December announced a goal to fully decarbonize its power fleet by 2050, proposed in its Upper Midwest Energy plan to add 4 GW of utility-scale solar by 2034.

Improvements in solar technology, the report said, will make it easier for components to "operate efficiently in the harsh and cold climate conditions within the Midwest."