Solar supporters are disappointed by state energy officials' position.
"They have a mandate to promote renewables," said Kevin Reuther, legal director for the nonprofit Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy in St. Paul. "They should be a champion for wind and solar."
Engelking told The Free Press earlier this month that the Public Utilities Commission, if it decides future demand for power will be greater than what the Geronimo project would produce, will have the option of approving both the solar project and a second proposal such as one of the natural gas plants.
One of those proposals is from the Texas-based energy corporation Calpine, which is seeking commission approval to add 345 megawatts of capacity to its existing 375-megawatt natural-gas-powered generating plant in Mankato. Calpine operates nearly 100 power plants across the country, including the Mankato Energy Center plant it put into operation in 2006.
In its proposal, the company emphasizes the efficiencies that would come with enlarging a plant that was constructed with just such an expansion in mind.
"The Mankato expansion optimizes the use of infrastructure currently installed at the existing plant, which was designed and permitted ... to be constructed in two phases as a full 720-megawatt power plant ...," Calpine's PUC filing states. "... The Proposal is a perfect example of the economically attractive expansion of an existing resource to meet future needs that the Commission must take into consideration in evaluating new capacity additions under (Minnesota law)."
The Geronimo project, if it gets final approval after the commission takes up the issue in March, would also have a highly visible impact on the Mankato area as soon as this summer when construction could begin on the solar arrays that would spring up across the southern half of Minnesota.
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.