SunEdison Alamosa array

This solar array in Alamosa, Colorado, covering 80 acres and producing just over 8.3 megawatts of power was the nation's largest when it began operation in 2007. Three projects before the city of Mankato and Blue Earth County this week, when combined, would cover a similar amount of land and produce 15 megawatts of electrical power. Photo courtesy of SunEdison

Lake Crystal is the latest Mankato-area community targeted for a large solar energy project.

The project southwest of the city, expected to receive final zoning approval next month, was one of three 5-megawatt solar arrays on agendas of city and county governments in the past two days.

A project on Mankato's north side was approved by the Mankato City Council Monday night, and another just north of Eagle Lake and west of Madison Lake got the Blue Earth County Board's OK Tuesday morning. The Lake Crystal project, because of its growing in size, needed to be sent back to the Blue Earth County Planning Commission and is expected to be back before the County Board next month for final zoning approval.

Less than a year ago, any of the three projects would have been big news — each much larger than anything previously existing in Minnesota. But a solar boom has been happening due to a solar energy mandate approved by the Legislature and a federal renewable energy tax credit for projects constructed by the end of 2016.

The three projects combined would be the equivalent of covering about 60 football fields, including end zones, with solar panels. Looked at another way, the solar panels of the three projects would cover the entire River Hills Mall, Mankato's Wal-Mart and Sam's Club and nearly all of the adjoining parking lots.

The Free Press has previously reported about two of the projects, although precise locations weren't available for the project between Eagle Lake and Madison Lake. SunEdison Inc. plans to develop its community solar garden on land just west of County Road 27 about two miles north of Eagle Lake.

The Geronimo Energy plan to develop 5 megawatts of solar power on 60 acres of land just west of Lime Valley Road came to light earlier in the year when the company purchased the city-owned property about a mile north of Highway 14.

The Lake Crystal project by Ecoplexus Inc., which hadn't been reported, is planned for one mile southwest of the intersection of Highway 60 and County Road 32, about four miles southwest of Lake Crystal. Originally, a 29-acre proposal, the Ecoplexus project is expanding to about 40 acres, which will require it take another trip through the county Planning Commission before an expected return to the board later in January.

All of the projects, along with numerous others in the region and the state, are slated for construction next year.

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