Minnesota commission to review siting issues for 100-MW North Star Solar project

At its June 19 meeting, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is due to look at issues related to an application from North Star Solar PV LLC for a site permit and a route permit to construct a 100-MW photovoltaic solar facility and an associated one-mile long, 115-kV high-voltage transmission line.

The solar facility and transmission line are proposed to be located on 800 acres of land within the city of North Branch and Lent and Sunrise townships in Chisago County, Minnesota, said a briefing memo from commission staff issued on June 11.

On Jan. 9, North Star filed a letter expressing its intent to file a combined site and route permit application. On Feb. 11, North Star filed a combined site and route permit application for this project.

On May 28, North Star sent a letter to Minnesota Department of Commerce Energy Environmental Review and Analysis (EERA) unit concerning an alternative site proposal (Lent Proposal) submitted by the Lent Township Planning and Zoning Commission. In the letter, North Star argued that the Lent Proposal should not be analyzed in the environmental assessment because it “does not result in any measurable or viable improvement to the proposed North Star Solar Project and will not meaningfully assist in the review of the Combined Site and Route Permit application.”

North Star indicated that the proposed alternative site locations are either actively being developed, or are under control by Aurora Distributed Solar LLC and Geronimo Energy LLC. North Star stated that relocating or combining any portion of its proposed project with these properties would be extremely unlikely, as it has no control of the parcels. North Star further maintained that the Lent Proposal “merely recommends relocating anticipated project facilities from one place to another without providing any real or meaningful mitigation.”

Commission staff said in the June 11 memo that it has reviewed the EERA’s comments and recommendations and is unclear whether evaluation of the Lent Proposal in the environmental assessment as proposed will aid the commission in making a determination on the application. Although review may provide a comparison of the proposed site with the alternative, it is uncertain whether the commission could ultimately issue a permit for an alternative site where the applicant has no desire or ability to develop, has no right of eminent domain, and for land that is currently controlled by other developers, staff noted.

Rather, staff said it believes the environmental assessment should evaluate the project site as proposed by North Star and through that analysis identify those areas of the site where potential impacts cannot be successfully minimized or mitigated. The commission would then need to make a decision of whether to deny the permit or reduce and redefine certain portions of the proposed site boundary to address any impacts that cannot be minimized or mitigated by other means.

For example, the memo noted that the commission’s decision could result in a site permit with redefined boundaries that may impact the anticipated generation of the project. However, it is staff understanding that the commission can only suggest additional site and route alternatives to the scope of the environmental assessment and cannot remove alternatives from consideration. Therefore, in the absence of any additional alternative sites or routes not already identified, the staff said the commission should take no action, and allow the department to proceed with issuing the scoping decision without an order from the commission.

The developer wants to sell this power to Xcel Energy

Community Energy Renewables LLC controls North Star Solar PV. The North Star Solar Project will utilize a single axis tracker system to move the photovoltaic (PV) modules with the sun from east to west every day. The final Solar Project design is expected to occupy approximately 800 acres of agricultural land. The interconnect would be at Xcel Energy‘s existing Chisago Substation. The project was proposed to Northern States Power d/b/a Xcel Energy in response to Xcel’s 2014 Solar Resource Solicitation on June 20, 2014, and selected as part of the Preferred Portfolio.

The application said that since its inception in 1999, Community Energy has led the development, financing and construction of more than 800 MW of renewable energy facilities. Community Energy developed and built some of the first wind facilities in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Illinois and Missouri. 

The proposed in-service date for the North Star Solar Project and the transmission project is Nov. 1, 2016. North Star has filed a Large Generator Interconnection Agreement (LGIA) application with the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) that is identified as queue number J385.

Final equipment selection has not yet been made, said the Feb. 11 application. For the North Star Project, North Star has modeled the SunEdison “Sylvantis” F335 Solar Module mounted on single axis trackers with the Advanced Energy 1000NX inverter. The F335 is a high efficiency mono-crystalline 72-cell module that delivers a low cost per watt and an extended lifetime from one of the leading companies in the solar industry. 

A project contact is: Chase Whitney, Originator, Community Energy Renewables LLC, 1120 Pearl Street, Suite 200, Boulder, CO 80302, chase.whitney@communityenergyinc.com, 303-444-1412.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.