Partnerships celebrated during community event for Mower, Fillmore solar installations – Austin Daily Herald

Partnerships celebrated during community event for Mower, Fillmore solar installations

Published 5:56 pm Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Even though approaching storms threatened to put a damper on the afternoon, partners on multiple fronts came together to celebrate a two-site solar project in southeastern Minnesota Wednesday.

The event, hosted by National Grid Renewables (NGR), at the Louise Solar Project site northeast of Adams celebrated the near completion of it and its sister site — the Fillmore County Solar Project.

Slated to come fully online sometime in the latter half of this year, the two projects together are a combined 95 megawatt project with a total of 267,500 panels spread across 1,070 acres.

At the Louise site alone there are approximately 140,000 panels that are single-axis tracking panels, which means they follow the progression of the sun across the sky. The state-of-the-art panels are also capable of gathering energy reflecting off of snow in the winter time through bifacial-technology.

Those taking part in Wednesday’s event were proud to note that all parts and materials were American made, a major point that spoke to local sourcing throughout the partnereships.

Wednesday’s event revolved around the numerous partnerships that led to this moment, including developers, landowners and local communities.

“It’s a special day,” said Xcel Energy Regional Vice President John Marshall. “This is a great day to celebrate the launch of a solar project – two installations that are in a partnership with landowners, the farmers down here and the local community.”

Xcel has been a partner with NGR, the developer of the two sites, since early in the process when two organizations first began looking at the idea of developing a solar site in the area.

According to David Reamer, head of New Business Strategy for NGR, the project originally was going to be built at another site altogether about 10 years ago. However, the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain issues and transmission interconnection issues with the grid led to switching the project to these two sites.

Reamer said that developing sites in southeastern Minnesota is reflective of a growing trend of solar within the state brought on by an alignment between projects and customers.

“It matches up really well with the profile that we, i.e. all of the customers who use the energy, and how we use it,” Reamer said. “Air conditioners in the summer go at 3-4 p.m. in the afternoon and they roll out throughout the early evenings. That’s exactly when these types of solar projects are producing the maximum amount of energy.”

For Xcel Energy, the project works directly into the company’s ambitious goal it adopted five years ago to be completely carbon free by 2050. In the state of MInnesota, Marshall said that goal has been pushed up to 2040. 

To date, Marshall said that 40% of the company’s energy now is renewable and that when nuclear power is added into the equation, that number is driven up to 70%.

“We feel really good. We’re very, very proud of where we are as a company,” Marshall said. “We’re proud of the partners we’ve made along the way … and we’re very confident not only in the progress we’ve made, but the plans we’ve set for the next 15, 20 years.”

Both Mower and Fillmore counties will receive windfalls from the two sites, much like they do with wind towers.

According to statistics from NGR, the two sites will generate $4.29 million in new tax revenue over the first 20 years of the operation.

For Mower County Board Commissioners’ Polly Glynn, who represents the area the Louise Solar Project is in, it will also be an opportunity to see just how successful solar can be in Mower County.

“I’m anxious to see how this is accepted within the county,” Glynn said. “There’s so many farmers that have agreed to do this, it will be interesting to see within a year or two how they feel.”

“They must be committed because they committed their land,” Glynn added

However, the project also has a broader impact at the community level. It was announced during Wednesday’s event that the LeRoy-Ostrander and Southland school districts will receive money from the Fillmore County (49 MW) and Louise (50 MW) projects respectively based on megawatts at each of the sites.

LeRoy-Ostrander will receive $180,000 across the first 20 years of the project’s lifespan while Southland will receive $200,000 over that same life span. Those totals break down to $200 per megawatt regardless of how many megawatts are being used at any given time.

As part of the day’s festivities, NGR also arranged to have a farmer’s market set up on location as another example of partnership, however, according to the Community Outreach Ambassador for FEAST!, Marlene Petersen, there is a direct correlation between the two aspects of Wednesday’s event.

“It mostly has to do with where you’re sourcing things,” she said, referring to local sourcing in particular. “You’re gathering a group of makers that all live within 40 miles of this location and we’re not only shortening supply chains … but we’re bringing these communities of makers together so they can support one another.”

Having several vendors at one site also increases the opportunities for cross marketing between each other.

“It’s those connections within a region that allow everyone to thrive,” Petersen said.

Through the partnerships demonstrated Wednesday Reamer highlighted that the project’s celebration is a reminder that several different aspects will be needed to solve the energy questions of the future.

“I think what I would like people to understand is energy is a complicated business,” Reamer said, adding that there will need to be a combination of existing energies including solar, wind, coal and gas to meet needs where they are at in the near future. “As you look at that mix and profile we think you’re going to need all the above and below. The demand for energy is not going away. The growth of these markets today is continuing. In the end you need all of the sources to fill the demand.”

“The business market for what we do is in very high demand,” he later added in speaking specifically of solar. “Consumer-facing companies want this to be a part of their solution. It couldn’t be a more exciting time. These are my best days.”

By the numbers

Project benefits of both sites combined

  • Operational capacity: 95 MW
  • Direct economic impact: $31.48 million over the first 20 years of operation
  • New tax revenue: $4.29 million over first 20 years of operation
  • Charitable giving: $380,000 during first 20 years of operation
  • Job creation: 300 construction workers; 2-3 full-time equivalent
  • CO2 emissions offset: $2.4 million metric tons over 20 years
  • Water consumption avoided: 4.4 billion gallons of water over first 20 years of operation

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