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Utilities, SMMPA looking into building 5MW solar plant

Austin Utilities and other municipal energy companies are looking into solar energy.

General Manager Mark Nibaur told the Austin City Council Monday the 5-megawatt solar plant through the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (SMMPA) was looking into building a 5-megawatt solar plant, which would benefit Austin Utilities.

“We will have a lot more solar in our portfolio in the next year, year and a half,” Nibaur told the council.

The power plant would be owned by the agency, which Austin Utilities is part of, and would take up about 40 to 50 acres. Nibaur said the project has already drawn 12 to 15 bidders.

The project comes as Austin Utilities, like other energy companies around the state, looks to bolster its renewable energy sources as part of a state mandate to have 25 percent of Minnesota’s energy come from environmentally clean sources by the year 2025.

The project is still in its early stages as Austin Utilities must work with SMMPA on its energy agreements. Area municipal energy companies must buy their energy through SMMPA, which most companies are a part of, rather than make their own energy and sell it.

In addition, renewable energy costs are still higher than traditional energy costs such as coal and natural gas. Nibaur told the council no one had yet figured out how to store solar and wind energy. The energy industry would likely embrace such technologies once built storage batteries for renewable energy become more common.

Nibaur spoke as part of a large-scale update on how Austin Utilities gets its energy. Council member Dave Hagen asked Nibaur to come back to the council in six months to explain the Utilities energy portfolio once more.

Clarification: A previous edition of this story stated Austin Utilities was looking to create a 5MW solar power plant. SMMPA as an agency, including Austin Utilities, is looking into the plant.