Minnesota's solar industry had feared a drop in orders if the program ended.

Minnesota regulators have ordered Xcel Energy Inc. to retain a program that subsidizes small solar-power projects.

State Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman decided Monday that the Minneapolis-based utility must retain its Solar Rewards program at the current $5 million-a-year level for the next three years.

Minnesota's solar industry had feared a drop in orders if the program ended. So far, the program has helped 560 homeowners and businesses afford solar-panel systems since 2010.

Xcel wanted to drop Solar Rewards after 2013, saying it was not a good deal for ratepayers.

The Star Tribune (http://bit.ly/UCDuI6 ) reports the state commerce department's energy resources division in August had recommended retaining Solar Rewards for now, and replacing it after 2015.

Rothman also agreed to reduce the incentive from $2.25 per kilowatt-hour to $1.50 per kilowatt-hour.