Minnesota regulators on Thursday approved a solar power project near Marshall, Minn., that will be the second-largest in the state.
NextEra Energy Resources was cleared to build a 62-megawatt solar generator on 515 acres of farmland three miles east of Marshall. One megawatt is 1 million watts of electricity.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission unanimously voted to approve the project, rejecting concerns that it violated state policy against building energy projects on prime farmland.
It is the second utility-scale solar generation project approved by state regulators to serve Xcel Energy customers. The Minneapolis-based utility won’t own either solar farm, but will purchase the electricity under long-term contracts to supply its 1.2 million Minnesota customers.
“This is a new area,” Commissioner John Tuma said. “We want to succeed because we want to continue to mine our energy here so that the dollars stay here. Instead of paying some big developer to build a [coal] mine out in Wyoming, we’re actually mining our energy right here.”
Neighbors of the Marshall project who raised concerns about replacing cropland with acres of solar structures said they haven’t decided whether to appeal the commission’s decision.
“We are disappointed and in a little bit of shock,” said neighbor Janelle Geurts.
Court Anderson, an attorney for her and other neighbors, said that the commission decision, if it stands, will set a bad precedent for protecting prime farmland.
“What should be a green, environmentally friendly solar project is anything but that when it is knocking out prime farmland,” he said.
The other large solar farm, approved in January, is the $180 million, 100-megawatt North Star Solar project on 800 acres southeast of North Branch in Chisago County. On Thursday, the commission denied a request by that project’s neighbors to reconsider the decision to approve of the project.
Both solar projects are expected to be built this year. Their combined output is equivalent to the electricity consumed in about 40,000 households.
David Shaffer • 612-673-7090 • @ShafferNews