The $250 million Aurora Solar Project has been approved by Minnesota state regulators. When completed, the project will increase the state’s installed solar capacity by 7 times, from 20 MW to 140 MW. Plans call for completion next year. Minnesota, which has been criticized a bit for unbalanced solar subsidies benefiting only one or two companies, will theoretically move up the solar power rankings in the US quite a bit after that, from its current position of 27th.
Geronimo Energy will install the solar power systems at 21 sites around the state and electricity generated will be sold to state utility Excel. Electricity created by the new solar project will be utilized to help reduce peak loads during summer months when air conditioner use is at its height. The state renewable portfolio requires 25% of all electricity to be generated from renewables by 2025.
“This project is unique because it’s designed to be delivered directly into Xcel’s distribution system, as opposed to a larger plant or even a wind project that might be located more remotely, which sends electricity over high voltage transmission lines,” explained Betsy Engelking, a Geronimo Energy executive.
No word on energy storage yet, but it would be fascinating if the state were to partner with Tesla or another energy storage provider like Imergy and also install at least several megawatt-hours of energy storage for backup purposes.
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It will also be intriguing to see if energy storage technology is integrated into state public policy, such as including it in the renewable energy portfolio standard. Surely, storing electricity produced by renewables is as valid as producing it.
Another possibility is that all the press created by such a large solar project raises solar power’s profile among residents and some of them respond by investing in their own solar systems. Overall, the state of Minnesota has earned a letter grade of “A” for solar power friendliness, which means that local government has created a policy environment that is pro solar. It also means that solar power owners will most likely recoup their upfront costs in a reasonable timeframe. After that, they effectively are making money by not having to pay electricity bills at the market rate. (Home values also typically increased after solar power systems are installed by even more than the cost of the systems.)
Image Credit: Cass Gilbert