21 sites across Minnesota promises up to 100M megawatts
ST. PAUL -- State regulators approved Minnesota's first industrial-scale solar energy project Thursday, a mammoth 21-site setup that will dot the Twin Cities exurbs and beyond with acres of solar panels. The unanimous vote by the Public Utilities...
ST. PAUL -- State regulators approved Minnesota’s first industrial-scale solar energy project Thursday, a mammoth 21-site setup that will dot the Twin Cities exurbs and beyond with acres of solar panels.
The unanimous vote by the Public Utilities Commission advances the ramp-up phase of large-scale solar energy in Minnesota, with this single $250 million project promising up to 100 million megawatts of power by 2016.
Currently, fewer than 15 megawatts of solar power are estimated to be generated in Minnesota - so the swift addition of 100 megawatts would represent more than a six-fold increase, with other huge projects on deck.
The project is being developed by Edina-based Geronimo Energy, which secured 24 sunny sites in 16 counties across the state, although the approved cluster was trimmed Thursday to a final 21 sites.
In the east metro, those approved sites include 40 acres of solar panels near Hastings, along with three sites in Chisago County, with expanses of solar panels of 60 acres, 39 acres and 23 acres.
“The commission approved the sites today, except for Pipestone, Zumbrota and Wyoming,” said Dan Wolf, PUC spokesman. “The commission has (previously) been siting transmission lines and wind farms, but this is the first large-scale solar energy facility.”
Those projects are “scheduled to be placed in service by the end of 2016, with the flexibility to bring a portion online in 2015 to meet demand and construction schedules,” according to a staff memo to the St. Paul-based PUC.
Geronimo Energy estimates construction on the various-sized sites will take between four and nine months, per location. The largest of the 21 sites, near Paynesville in Stearns County, will feature 108 acres of solar panels.
Energy generated from those solar arrays will be sold to and distributed by Xcel Energy. Thursday’s approval moves the utility another step closer to meeting a state mandate.
“Ultimately by 2020, under current law, Minnesota has a standard that 1.5 percent of the retail sales have to be met through solar energy for the public utilities,” Wolf said.
Lee Gabler, Xcel Energy’s senior director of customer strategy and solutions, said that the Aurora Distributed Solar Project approved Thursday is “part of a portfolio of solar that will be brought on, utility-scale solar, between now and the end of 2016.”
Gabler said the two other huge solar projects moving forward “are a little bit different,” featuring “large installations at a single site, versus the Aurora, which was unique about how they disbursed them in our distribution system.”
Such industrial-scale projects, which are competitively bid, are supported by Xcel Energy, Gabler said, who added that “we’re very supportive of solar.”
The Minneapolis-based utility, however, has raised some objections about a different type of solar program, the so-called Solar Garden program that features smaller-scale farms but that has been pitched to big energy users.
A unit of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, BHE Renewables, recently purchased some smaller-scale solar garden projects from Geronimo Energy, including several under consideration in and near St. Paul.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner of Forum News Service.