Parcels of land along Hwy. 19 in both Rice and Dakota counties could soon feature community solar gardens.

Both Minnesota Community Solar and SolarStone are in the process of getting approval to install the gardens, which will be part of Xcel Energy’s Community Solar Program.

All four of the projects will be on Eastgate Farms Inc. land, owned by Craig Holden, who stressed the importance of doing everything possible to slow down global climate change.

“That’s our primary interest,” he said.

Mary Jo Cristofaro, of Northfield Area Community Solar, a community partner of Minnesota Community Solar, said the most exciting piece is being able to offer a renewable energy choice to anyone with an Xcel Energy meter.

Minnesota Community Solar is proposing two gardens, a 275-kilowatt (kW) garden in Rice County (Northfield Township) and another that will feature five, one-megawatt (MW) solar gardens in Dakota County (Waterford Township).

The other two projects, one in Dakota County (Waterford Township) and one in Rice County (Northfield Township), both of which would feature five, one-MW solar gardens, are being proposed by SolarStone.

According to Joe DeVito, CEO of SolarStone, he is also in the process of introducing two additional projects near Faribault, and Minnesota Community Solar is in the process of introducing a 250-kW garden in Nerstrand.

DeVito said people with an Xcel meter can subscribe to a portion and they’re then entitled to a bill credit.

“We’re seeing a great interest [from] landowners and subscribers,” he said.

According to a conditional use permit application for SolarStone’s proposed project in Northfield Township, which will go before the Rice County Planning Commission on Thursday, a one-MW garden covers roughly five acres. It’s expected that the five, one-MW project will take up 25 to 30 acres.

The typical one-MW installation will include 20 rows of solar panel arrays approximately 175 feet long, separated by lanes 12 to 18 feet wide, according to the application. The solar array racks are screwed or pounded into the ground, and no concrete foundations are necessary.

Though all of the projects are at various stages, all of the parties are hopeful to break ground this summer.

“We wouldn’t be going through this process if we weren’t hopeful,” Holden said.

DeVito said all of the projects either have permits or are in the midst of the process to get permits.

And when the developers are ready to break ground, Cristofaro said, because there is no cement poured, it’s a quick process.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” Holden added.

Reach Associate Editor Brad Phenow at 507-645-1116, or follow him on Twitter @BradPhenow.

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