Regulators have given the go-ahead for Minnesota Power’s plans to install a 10 MW solar energy array at Camp Ripley, Minnesota National Guard’s base on the southwestern edge of the utility’s service territory.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved the $30 million project, and Minnesota Power says the installation will help the utility achieve about one-third of its requirement under the state’s solar energy standard. The standard, enacted in 2013 by the state legislature, requires 1.5% of a public utility’s applicable retail sales to come from solar energy sources by 2020.
“Both Minnesota Power and the National Guard are on the front lines of providing cleaner energy forms,” says Al Hodnik, chairman, president and CEO of ALLETE, Minnesota Power’s parent company. “It’s exciting to partner with Camp Ripley in meeting its renewable energy goals as we build our very first utility-scale solar project. This initiative is the latest step in how Minnesota Power is achieving its EnergyForward strategy of a balanced energy supply of one-third renewable energy, one-third natural gas and one-third coal.”
Construction is expected to begin in May, and the project is slated for completion by November. The solar array will utilize about 80 acres of underutilized property at the National Guard’s 53,000-acre regional training facility near Little Falls, Minn.
It will consist of up of 120,000 thin-film photovoltaic panels manufactured by First Solar, and Minnesota Power has contracted with engineering and construction company M+W Group to build the array; Hunt Electric is a primary subcontractor, and other subcontractors are expected to join the project.
The solar array, which Minnesota Power says is the largest solar project on any National Guard base in the U.S., is part of a broader partnership between the utility and the National Guard. In an agreement signed in 2014, the two parties outlined plans for identifying ways Camp Ripley could reduce its energy usage and provide enhanced energy security for the military site.
The project is designed to allow Camp Ripley to use the energy produced by the array during emergencies when the electric grid is down, providing enhanced energy security for the military site. At most times, the solar energy produced will be utilized by Minnesota Power’s customers.