Largest Minnesota solar array wins approval from utility regulators

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Largest Minnesota solar array wins approval from utility regulators

January 21, 2016

The largest solar power project in Minnesota won approval Wednesday from state regulators.

North Star Solar, a $180 million solar farm to serve Xcel Energy customers, is planned on leased farmland southeast of North Branch in Chisago County. The project, covering an area the size of two Lake Calhouns, will generate roughly the amount of electricity used in 25,000 homes.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted 4-0 to grant permits to Community Energy Solar of Radnor, Pa., to erect solar panels and a related power line. The company will own and operate the project, and expects to begin selling the power to Xcel by the end of the year.

It is by far the biggest in a wave of large, ground-mounted solar arrays that energy companies are planning to build across Minnesota in the next few years. The solar boom is driven by a state requirement that investor-owned utilities get 1.5 percent of their power from solar by 2020 and by growing demand from consumers who choose electricity from shared projects called solar gardens.

 

The Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group, is projecting a 30-fold increase in the state’s solar generating capacity by the end of 2017. Hundreds of large shared-solar projects are planned in rural areas and on the urban fringe, including Wright, Dakota and Washington counties, mostly to serve customers of Xcel, the state’s largest power company.

“We are expecting to go from 25 megawatts of mostly rooftop solar to 750 megawatts by the end of next year,” said David Shaffer, development director and general counsel of the trade group.

One megawatt equals 1 million watts, and the output of North Star Solar will be 100 megawatts, the equivalent of a modest-sized traditional power plant.

Many of the new solar projects will replace farmland with fields of glass. Some people who live near the North Star project object to the transformation of the rural landscape even though the developer is required to plant trees for screening.

SOURCE:  Star Tribune

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