Construction wraps up on largest solar facility in Midwest

Published 7:13 am Thursday, October 20, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS — Construction has wrapped up on a $180 million solar farm in Minnesota that’s billed as the largest single solar facility in the Midwest and one of the largest in the country.

The North Star Solar project in Chisago County just north of the Twin Cities comprises more than 440,000 solar panels on 1 ½ square miles of land. It’s expected to produce enough energy to power more than 20,000 homes, starting in December.

Swinerton Renewable Energy built the facility in about six months, after developers spent more than a year negotiating with landowners and acquiring needed permits. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in January approved the project that Pennsylvania-based Community Energy Solar owns and will operate.

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“This project is part of our vision to bring utility-scale solar at a competitive price to Minnesota and the broader Midwest,” company President Eric Blank said in a statement. “We were drawn to Chisago County as a great combination of available land, welcoming communities and a strong interconnection point that is close to Minneapolis and St. Paul.”

Some area landowners worried about traffic and noise, but others said they are happy to benefit financially by allowing solar panels on what used to be corn and soybean fields.

“There’s no money in farming, not around here anyway,” Clifford Holcomb told Minnesota Public Radio.

Xcel Energy will buy power from the solar farm as part of a 25-year deal, to provide solar energy to customers across the upper Midwest.

Minnesota has seen a wave of planned solar projects, driven in part by a state requirement that investor-owned utilities get 1.5 percent of their electricity from solar by 2020. The Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association projects a 30-fold increase in Minnesota’s solar generating capacity by the end of next year.