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Xcel Energy faulted for handling of community solar program

's handling of acommunity solar program in Minnesota drew sharp criticism from an independentengineer tasked with mediating a dispute between the utility and a developerwho said inaccurate and incomplete information held up construction and forcedit to delay millions of dollars in planned investments.

Thedeveloper, SunShare LLC,in August 2015 accused Xcel Energy, which does business in the state as ,of more than 100 tariff violations, including failing to complete engineeringstudies on time and failing to provide useful estimates of interconnectioncosts.

Theindependent engineer, Sam Wheeler, said SunShare's assertions are credible. "Inthe course of this dispute case, the IE [independent engineer] has reviewed andexamined Xcel provided submittals, studies, statements of work, notes, letters,meeting minutes and other types of documentation. The IE sees a distinctpattern of wrong owner names, incorrect numbers, etc.," Wheeler wrote in aMarch 31 report. Wheeler said the kinds of computer-modeling errors thatSunShare initially complained about continued during the proceeding.

"Itis expected that any corporation of Xcel's stature produce and provide accurateand complete documentation," Wheeler said.

XcelEnergy acknowledged that its handling of the community solar program "hasnot been perfect." However, "we disagree with a number of conclusionsin the IE's report, which we believe merit reconsideration by the commission,"the utility said in a regulatory filing.

TheMinnesota Public Utilities Commission is scheduled to discuss the communitysolar program at a meeting April 21.

Theprogram has been plaguedby solar industry feuding,including a fight over Xcel Energy's plan to enforce a size limit that it saidwas designed to uphold the program's aim of encouraging small-scale development.

Aconsultant in 2015 blamed the program's rocky start, in part, on the "hugevolume" of applications that were submitted.

"Ourprogram has been extremely popular with developers and is poised to become thelargest community solar gardens program of its kind in the nation," XcelEnergy wrote in an April 7 filing. "With the large volume of applicationscame significant complexity, time and resource constraints, and a number of newchallenges."