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An Ecos Energy solar energy project in the heart of Minnesota's wind farm region will test the potential of co-locating solar and wind turbine arrays to provide a more consistent supply of clean, renewable energy to the local Xcel Energy grid.

Clean Power

Co-Locating Solar and Wind Power Farms: Can Two Renewable Energy Sources Be Better Than One?

An Ecos Energy solar energy project in the heart of Minnesota’s wind farm region will test the potential of co-locating solar and wind turbine arrays to provide a more consistent supply of clean, renewable energy to the local Xcel Energy grid.

The intermittent, yet often complementary, nature of wind and solar energy has long been observed and increasingly remarked upon of late. Minnesota’s Ecos Energy is looking to take advantage of that by building the state’s largest solar photovoltaic (PV) array on a 13-acre site in southwestern Minnesota, home to more wind farms than any other region state-wide, the StarTribune reports.

At 2-megawatts (MW), the solar power array can’t be considered large by any stretch, but it’s expected to provide enough electricity for 340 homes, about as much as a single wind turbine. Yet more significantly, Ecos Energy’s Slayton project will provide some trailblazing data as to whether or not intermittent solar energy and wind turbine arrays can be used in tandem to provide a more consistent supply of power to the grid.

More than 70 wind farms are up and running in southwest Minnesota, putting out power equivalent to that of the state’s largest coal-fired power plant. The power output of the region’s wind farms typically peak seasonally in spring and fall, and daily at night.

Director of development for the Ecos project, Chris Little, told the StarTribune’s David Shaffer that the Slayton solar power project aims to answer the question, “Could you fill that gap with another energy resource that might complement the wind?” A unit of Allco Renewable Energy, Ecos Energy is diversifying into solar energy, having focused on wind power project development to this point.

Xcel Energy is purchasing all of the Slayton project’s electricity. It intends to study the project’s output and compare it to that of three nearby wind farms, Shaffer explains. Though the Slayton project’s solar PV array won’t be on the same site as a wind power farm, it will be close enough to find out if both can be make use of the same grid interconnection, which would reduce the cost and enhance the return on investment of co-locating wind turbine and solar power arrays.

Construction is expected to begin in April and be completed by July. Ecos has signed a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement with Xcel for the Slayton solar project’s electricity, the terms of which weren’t disclosed. Regulatory filings suggest it will cost around $7 million to build, $2 million of which is to be covered by a grant from Xcel’s Renewable Energy Development Fund, which is funded by the utility’s customers, the StarTribune article points out.

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I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.


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