By Tim Krohn
---- — MANKATO — By as early as this fall, a nearly five-acre plot of land atop Thompson Ravine and visible from Highway 14 will be home to a large solar farm being constructed by the School Sisters of Notre Dame.
State regulators recently approved a $900,000 grant from the Xcel Energy Renewable Development Fund for the $1.8 million project.
"It's very exciting for us," said Bill Ward, facilities administrator at Good Counsel.
The array will be at the intersection of Highway 14 and Victory Drive North, just west of the Kwik Trip at Victory and Raintree Road. It will be on Good Counsel's land, east of the main campus.
At nearly 1 megawatt (907 kilowatts), the project will power about 115 homes. Compared to existing solar farms in the state, it would be among the biggest with the largest being a 2-megawatt array near Slayton. But several significantly larger solar projects are slated for construction, including several proposed by Geronimo Energy that would include a 5.5-megawatt project near Eagle Lake.
Ward said the rest of the funding for the project is coming from a group of investors put together by Hopkins-based Best Power International, which will oversee construction and management of the solar farm. Best Power will take advantage of solar tax credits and will lease the power generated from the array to Xcel Energy. Best Power has done several similar projects in Minnesota.
After seven or eight years, SSND will take ownership of the array and will continue to use Best Power as a management firm and will continue to lease the electricity to Xcel, with SSND getting the lease payments.
"The power won't be going to the SSND grid at this point," Ward said, but said that could change in the future.
Ward said the Good Counsel sisters hope the solar farm will be a destination for educational opportunities for area school children and college students.
"The sisters could have done a lot of things with that property, but they really thought this would be good for the community."
Indeed, Ward said the property, tucked along bluffs and in a prime location, has drawn plenty of offers from developers over the years.
Ward said the best scenario would be for construction this fall, but he said it will more likely be spring of 2015.
"Once they start it doesn't take long to build."
The fenced-in solar array will have stationary solar panels, rather than the more complex ones that follow the sun.
The grant to SSND was one of dozens of solar-electric generating projects across the state that received funding.
The Public Utilities Commission approved $42 million in Xcel grants
Other grants will subsidize a solar array atop Target’s St. Paul Midway store, one for the new St. Paul Saints stadium, Edison High School, a wastewater treatment plant in Shakopee and several Minneapolis city parks.
The awards come a month after a state administrative judge endorsed a separate $250 million project by Edina-based Geronimo Energy to build about 20 other large solar arrays across the state. That project awaits final regulatory approval and faces opposition that could derail it.
Geronimo has obtained leases or options to buy 23 plots of land near Xcel substations and intends to construct multi-acre arrays of solar panels on 20 of them. The parcels include an 84-acre site near Waseca that would produce 10 megawatts of power — matching ones planned in Albany and Paynesville as the largest in the state.
Another near Eagle Lake would be eighth largest, producing 5.5 megawatts on a 47-acre site. The one near Lake Emily just east of St. Peter would be among the smallest at 2-megawatts, but even that would equal the current largest solar array in Minnesota, located near Slayton.