Nearly Five Years In, MN Sees Benefits from Solar Project
Wednesday, March 10, 2021
NORTH BRANCH, Minn. - Minnesota is home to the largest solar plant in the Midwest. The North Star facility, now in its fifth year, is touted for spurring other solar projects and benefits beyond the environment.
North Star sits on nearly 1,000 acres of rural property in Chisago County, just north of the Twin Cities. Feeding into Xcel Energy's system, it produces enough electricity to power 20,000 homes. Kurt Schneider, county environmental services director, said North Star and similar projects not only help the state become less reliant on fossil fuels but also produce annual revenue "between $250,000 and $300,000 in financial benefits through this production tax. So, certainly for us, that's almost 1% of an annual levy."
That means the county can lean a little less on property owners for tax revenue to fund public safety and other priorities. In addition to the plant, Chisago County now has nearly a dozen solar farms. Schneider noted that some have seen opposition from neighboring residents, but said solar development hasn't resulted in serious issues for the county.
Those in the solar industry are optimistic about its growth. Eric Pasi. chief development officer of IPS Solar, said the state just eclipsed 1,000 megawatts of solar capacity. That's a hundredfold increase over the past decade.
"We're on an exponential growth curve in the state," he said, "and really, it's behind more utility-scale and community solar-scale projects."
However, Pasi said, some local governments are showing signs of "solar fatigue" when issuing permits for development, resulting in stricter rules.
Supporters of solar plants or solar gardens say they're still less intrusive than a traditional power plant. Pasi added that the projects can be modified to provide benefits that offset the land being used for solar.
"In all of our community solar projects," he said, "we plant pollinator-friendly seed mixes that help to promote the health of the land."
On some sites, he said, that allows for beekeepers to produce local honey. Whether it's government revenue or environmental impact, backers of solar power cite the need for more grid capacity to allow for more development.
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