Minnesota PUC to look Jan. 28 at approving 10-MW Minnesota Power solar project

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission at its Jan. 28 meeting is due to look at an August 2015 application from Minnesota Power for approval of the 10-MW Camp Ripley solar photovoltaic project.

The Camp Ripley project is designed to meet the company’s state solar energy standard (SES) needs. The project will be located at Camp Ripley, which is on the southwestern edge of Minnesota Power’s service territory near Little Falls in Morrison County. Camp Ripley is the largest National Guard base in Minnesota. The project will be the largest solar project on any National Guard base in the nation and will be sited on 80 acres inside the 53,000-acre base, said a briefing memo issued by commission staff on Jan. 20.

The project will have a 35-year life and is estimated to cost $30 million. Minnesota Power will own and operate the project through a lease agreement with a partner bank that includes an option for the utility to purchase the assets when the lease expires. The company will incur capital costs of about $6.9 million for costs not covered by the lease agreement, including $2.3 million in distribution system upgrades. MP plans to work with a solar developer who will engineer, procure and construct the project and then turn it over to the utility.

Minnesota Power will pay the National Guard a one-time payment of $272,800 and subsequent annual payments for a total of $1.6 million over the 35 years of the land lease for access to the land. The project will provide the utility with experience in the development and operation of a utility-scale solar facility.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce has argued in this case that Minnesota Power is paying a significant premium for the project but recommended approval based on the fact that there are difficult-to-quantify benefits. These benefits include that the project: is part of a larger initiative that will allow the utility to work closely with an existing large customer exploring future technologies, including smart grid, microgrid, and demand-side management projects; is located to allow direct connection to Minnesota Power’s distribution system; will allow utility to take advantage of the ITC tax credit through its financing arrangement before the ITC expires; and will allow Minnesota Power to gain experience operating a utility-scale solar facility on its system.

The questions the commission will address on Jan. 28 are:

  • Should the commission approve this request for approval to recover investments and expenditures related to the Camp Ripley 10-MW solar project?
  • Should the commission approve Minnesota Power’s request to add a Solar Renewable Factor separate from the existing Renewable Resource Factor to the company’s Renewable Resource Rider in order to allocate project costs between solar-exempt and solar-paying customers?
  • Should the commission approve Minnesota Power’s request to add a Solar Energy Adjustment (SEA) in addition to the existing Fuel and Purchased Energy Adjustment (FPE Rider) in order to allocate project costs between solar-exempt and solar-paying customers?
  • Should the commission approve the utility’s request to adjust its current FPE Rider to exclude solar costs and energy?
  • Should the commission approve Minnesota Power’s request to itemize on customer bills the proposed Solar Energy Adjustment (SEA) and the Solar Renewable Factor?
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.