The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

January 22, 2014

Minn. agency, power companies attack solar plan

Proposal included arrays in Eagle Lake, St. Peter and Waseca

State energy officials are joining with power companies to try to derail a proposed $250 million solar energy project in Minnesota that includes arrays in Eagle Lake, St. Peter and Waseca.

Edina-based Geronimo Energy plans to build about 20 large solar power arrays to meet future electricity needs of Xcel Energy Inc. customers in Minnesota.

But in regulatory filings Tuesday, the Minnesota Commerce Department, Minneapolis-based Xcel and two other companies that want to build natural gas power plants urged state regulators to reject the Geronimo's solar plan, the Star Tribune reported. One of those companies is Calpine Corp., which is proposing to nearly double the electricity production at its power plant on Mankato's north side.

Three weeks ago state Administrative Law Judge Eric Lipman concluded solar would be a better deal than natural gas generation. He recommended the state Public Utilities Commission approve the Geronimo project. The commission is not required to follow Lipman's recommendations.

Critics of Lipman's solar recommendation, including the state Commerce Department, contend the judge assumed electrical demand would grow more slowly than once projected.

"We really think that (he) relied on an untested and unusually low forecast for future sales growth and he really didn't consider what would happen if the economy recovers as we expect it to," said Bill Grant, deputy commissioner for energy programs at the Commerce Department.

Betsy Engelking, a vice president for Geronimo, said those arguments were "thoroughly considered and rejected."

"Now they are taking another shot," Engelking said.

The state Commerce Department has been a supporter of solar energy. The department backed the 2013 state law requiring investor-owned utilities such as Xcel to generate 1.5 percent of their power from the sun by 2020.

"We are not saying no to solar," Grant told the newspaper. Instead, his department wants the commission to order a separate competition in which Geronimo's massive project would compete against other solar projects to meet Xcel's 1.5 percent mandate.

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