Minnesota Power aims for May construction start on Camp Ripley solar project

Minnesota Power’s plans to install a 10-MW solar energy array at Camp Ripley received the go-ahead from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on Jan. 28.

Commissioners unanimously approved the 10-MW installation, which will be built at the Minnesota National Guard’s base in central Minnesota on the southwestern edge of Minnesota Power’s service territory. The $30 million project will help Minnesota Power, a utility division of ALLETE Inc. (NYSE: ALE), achieve about one-third of its requirement under the state’s Solar Energy Standard.

“Both Minnesota Power and the National Guard are on the front lines of providing cleaner energy forms,” said Al Hodnik, ALLETE chairman, president and CEO, in a Jan. 29 statement. “It’s exciting to partner with Camp Ripley in meeting its renewable energy goals as we build our very first utility scale solar project. This initiative is the latest step in how Minnesota Power is achieving its EnergyForward strategy of a balanced energy supply of one-third renewable energy, one-third natural gas and one-third coal.”

Construction of the solar array is expected to begin in May and continue through the summer, with the project to be generating solar power by November. Minnesota Power’s first utility-scale solar array will utilize about 80 acres of underutilized property at the National Guard’s 53,000-acre regional training facility near Little Falls, Minn.

The project will be made up of 120,000 thin-film photovoltaic panels manufactured by First Solar, a PV provider based in Ohio. Minnesota Power has contracted with M+W Group, a global engineering and construction company, to build the array. Hunt Electric is a primary subcontractor with other subcontractors to follow.

The solar array, the largest solar project on any National Guard base in the nation, is part of a broader partnership between Minnesota Power and the National Guard. In an agreement signed in 2014, Minnesota Power and the National Guard outlined plans for identifying ways Camp Ripley could reduce its energy usage and provide enhanced energy security for the military site. The project is designed to allow Camp Ripley to use the energy produced by the array during emergencies when the electric grid is down, providing enhanced energy security for the military site. At most times, the solar energy produced would be utilized by Minnesota Power’s customers.

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.