Xcel Energy has unveiled plans for the largest solar-energy plant in Minnesota by far, a $575 million project in Becker adjacent to the company's Sherco coal-power complex.

The solar plant would create 900 union construction jobs and provide enough electricity to power 100,000 Upper Midwest homes, the company said.

It would help replace some electricity generation that will be lost through the early retirement of Xcel's three Sherco coal generators.

While Xcel discussed the solar plant last year, the company late Tuesday filed its formal proposal with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The proposal is part of Xcel's response to the PUC's call last spring to accelerate investments to help with the COVID-19 economic recovery.

"The Sherco solar project will deliver more of the renewable energy our customers want while also keeping bills affordable for the long-term," Christopher Clark, Xcel's president for Minnesota and the Dakotas, said in a news release.

The Minneapolis-based company said the Sherco project would be among the lowest-cost solar power plants in the state; it's economics will be enhanced by using existing transmission infrastructure at the Sherco coal plants.

The big solar farm, which must be approved by the PUC, would be built in 2022 to 2024. It would be developed jointly by Xcel and Edina-based National Grid Renewables, and Xcel would own and operate the plant.

National Grid Renewables is an arm of the British utility company National Grid, which in 2019 bought Edina-based Geronimo Energy — one of Minnesota's most prominent renewable-energy developers — for $100 million.

The Sherco solar plant would have the capacity to produce 460 megawatts of electricity, roughly the same amount as Xcel's Riverside gas-fired plant in northeast Minneapolis (although solar power is intermittent, gas is not).

For perspective, Xcel's largest single-site solar plant in Minnesota is the North Star project in Chisago County with 100 megawatts capacity. The company also draws power from a 62-megawatt solar farm near Marshall and the 100-megawatt Aurora project spread across 16 sites.

Minnesota's largest source of solar power is the Community Solar Garden program, which has a 789-megawatt capacity scattered among 400 sites. Xcel administers the program, which was created by the state Legislature. Independent power companies own the solar sites.

Xcel said the Sherco solar project is part of its plan to transition to 100% clean power by 2050. The solar plant would come online in 2024, the year Xcel plans to retire the first of three 680-megawatt coal-fired generators at Sherco. The last of the three would be shuttered in 2030.

Xcel also plans to build a 750-megawatt gas-fired power plant at Sherco in the mid-2020s, although it has drawn considerable opposition from environmental and clean-power advocates.

The company said in a news statement that it is "emphasizing hiring minority and women-owned companies and individuals" to build its new projects.

Xcel said it's developing a workforce and training program "that will help provide utility industry and construction skills to those communities."

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003