PUC gets Minnesota Power solar project plan

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PUC gets Minnesota Power solar project plan

April 15, 2016

Duluth area drivers will see two new solar energy projects going up this summer along Arrowhead Road — one at Rice Lake Road and a larger project at Haines Road.

Minnesota Power filed details of the solar projects with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission Thursday.

The PUC is expected to approve the projects later this spring, with construction starting soon after. The projects were first announced last September.

The smaller, 40-kilowatt project will be built on Minnesota Power land near its Herbert Service Center. The Duluth-based utility will own and operate that project, called a solar array, that will house 450 thin-film solar panels manufactured by First Solar.

The 1.5-acre site on Arrowhead Road also will be restored to a pollinator-friendly habitat of native plants and flowers.

The larger, 1-megawatt project will be made up of about 4,375 polysilicon solar panels and cover up to eight acres on county-owned land at Arrowhead and Haines roads.

Minneapolis-based solar developer United States Solar Corp. was selected through a competitive bidding process to own and operate the larger facility and has a contract to sell the electricity to the utility.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, 1 megawatt of solar electricity can power about 164 homes.

Both locations will supply electricity for Minnesota Power "solar garden subscribers" and are expected to be generating power by the end of the year.

The solar garden program supports the utility's requirement to produce 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025 and 1.5 percent from solar energy resources by 2020. It's also part of the company's EnergyForward strategy to achieve a mix of one-third coal, one-third natural gas and one-third renewable energy in coming years.

Subject to PUC approval, residential and business customers will be able to choose from three options to buy into solar energy: An upfront, one-time payment, a fixed monthly subscription fee or a fixed charge per kilowatt-hour. All of the options are based on 25-year agreements, but customers have the flexibility to leave the program at any time without penalty.

The cost for residential customers who want to replace their current energy with solar energy, and who typically use about 750 kilowatt-hours a month, will range from about $81 to about $95 a month. That compares to a monthly bill of about $80 under the traditional system.

SOURCE:  Duluth News Tribune

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