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New project could place 40-acre solar energy site near Hastings

HASTINGS - A major solar power project is coming to Minnesota, feeding 100 mega-watts (MW) of renewable energy into Xcel Energy’s power grid, and one piece of the project could be built in Hastings.

Xcel Energy had put out a request for proposals (RFP) asking energy producers to participate in a competitive hunt for new resources that would help Xcel meet peak energy demands, said Allen Krug, Xcel Energy’s vice president of state regulatory policy.

One of the proposals was from Geronimo Energy, an Edina-based wind and solar energy developer. Geronimo presented the Aurora Solar Project, a concept for a 100 MW solar generation project that would construct about 20 new solar arrays spread out across Xcel’s territory, each site feeding into an existing Xcel distribution substation, said Betsy Engelking, vice president at Geronimo Energy.

In late March, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved Geronimo Energy’s project to go forward, and now Geronimo and Excel are in the process of working out all the particulars of the new power purchase agreement. Krug said that contract negotiations such as this one generally take a few months, although it could be done sooner.

In the meantime, Geronimo is also doing its pre-construction site work. The company has a list of 30-some sites, Engelking said, that could potentially be developed into solar arrays. Hastings is on that list, she said.

Not all the sites on the list will be developed. A number of tests could knock any of the sites out of the running, including environmental assessments such as soil testing, wetland studies and the impact a solar site could have on any endangered species on the site. Xcel Energy also has to confirm that it’s even possible to connect the proposed solar site to the existing substation. Those studies are currently being done, Engelking said.

Ultimately, about 20 sites will be developed across Minnesota. Projects would range in size from 2 MW to 10 MW per site.

If Hastings passes all the tests, Geronimo has a 5 MW project planned that would cover about 40 acres, Engelking said. The land the company has acquired for the project here is located in Denmark Township, north of Point Douglas Drive.

Engelking said she expects the final list to be determined sometime around September this year. The company currently plans to build all 20 or so sites over a period of two years, with all projects completed and in service by the end of 2016. That timeline is still subject to change.

Geronimo also plans to talk with local communities where projects are located. Those meetings will likely take place this summer.

There are other projects that will move forward with Xcel just as Geronimo is, Engelking said, but so far Geronimo is unique.

“We are the only solar project that’s been selected,” she said.

Several other projects are proposing using natural gas.

For Xcel, Geronimo Energy’s project fulfills two needs. Xcel is under a state mandate to get 1.5 percent of its power from solar by 2020, Krug said. For Xcel, that means acquiring about 300 MW of solar energy in the next six years.

“This project would be about a third of that,” he said.