Solar array

A pending project on St. Olaf land will include construction of a solar farm of up to 1 megawatt near an existing one also owned by the college. (News file photo)

Plans are in place for a solar garden of up to 1 megawatt on St. Olaf College land in northwest Northfield.

The Northfield Planning Commission on Thursday approved a conditional use permit for the project with conditions relating to planting native plants and runoff, and the stipulation that the solar garden’s conditional permit expires once operations end.

The solar farm, expected to be in Dakota County and operated by Minneapolis-based renewable energy developer Hyacinth Solar, is proposed as a community solar garden through Xcel Energy’s Solar Rewards Community Program. It is projected to be able to power 258 homes annually. The solar farm will be next to another owned by a separate company.

Construction is slated to begin early this spring and be completed this year.

In a prepared statement, Geronimo Energy Director of Marketing and Communications Lindsay T. Smith said there were a number of factors that attracted the company to the community.

“As with all solar project developments, we consider proximity to available interconnection, the overall topography, the site’s solar resource, land availability and a welcoming community,” she said. “This location met all these considerations, and as such, was an attractive location for us for a community solar garden.”

In 2013, state legislation directed the Minneapolis-based utility to create a program for community solar gardens. The program is overseen by the state’s Public Utilities Commission, and a community solar garden is considered a centralized, shared solar project connected to the energy grid that has multiple subscribers. Each subscriber receives a credit on their Xcel Energy electric bill based on the production of the solar facility and their subscription share.

The program is limited to in-state Xcel Energy customers, and subscribers must be within the same county or within an adjacent county. Each subscriber can subscribe for up to 40% of a community solar garden. There must be a minimum of five subscribers per solar garden.

Smith noted Geronimo has contracted with more than 140 subscribers throughout the state as the company continues seeing interest from subscribers.

“Solar projects are important for and add value to local communities not only due to the environmental benefits, but also because of the economic benefits they provide, such as the creation of a new source of tax revenue, the creation of new temporary and permanent jobs, and also a boost to the local economy through increased local spending during the construction phase.”

Northfield Planning Commission Vice Chairman William Schroeer said the project is important because the city needs to bolster its supply of renewable energy.

To Schroeer, there is a sense of civic pride in developing renewable energy within city limits and providing local jobs for installation work.

“We were delighted to see an increase in solar energy, which is consistent with and advances a lot of the city’s goals, so we were really positive about the project itself,” he said. We just wanted to make sure it was a good neighbor.”

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2019 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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