KASSON — A proposed project south of Kasson would inject a big dose of sunshine into the local power grid.
EDF Renewables, a San Diego-based company with projects across North America, wants to build a 200-megawatt solar farm located primarily in Canisteo Township, south of Kasson in Dodge County.
The company has sent letters to notify local government agencies that might be impacted by the project, and is working to acquire its certificate of need, an early regulatory hurdle with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
"We are providing this notice at an early stage in the permitting process so that those persons who may be affected have every opportunity to participate in meetings and hearings," wrote project developer Scott Wentzell.
Wentzell concludes his letter saying the company would be happy to meet with stakeholders and other interested parties to discuss the project.
Using estimates from the Solar Energy Industries Association, those 200 mW of power to keep a minimum of 30,000 homes lit, cool, and online.
That's in line with other proposed EDF Renewables projects in the Upper Midwest. For example, the 50 mW Louise Solar Project east of Adams in Mower County would generate enough energy to offset consumption of approximately 7,500 homes.
According to EDF Renewables, construction of the Louise Solar Project will begin in 2022 and be online in 2024.
As for the Dodge County project, Tricia DeBleeckere, a spokeswoman with the state utility commission, said the company has filed applications for the certificate of need and the site permit, a process that can take up to a year to complete. Part of that process includes public meetings during which the public and local stakeholders can weigh in on the project.
While no public meetings have been scheduled yet, DeBleeckere said area residents should expect something scheduled in six to eight weeks.
DeBleeckere, said the project would be the second largest in Minnesota if approved, only behind a proposed 460 mW project near Becker.
Loren Torrens, Canisteo Township supervisor, said representatives from the company came and talked to the township board about six months ago.
"It was mostly informational," Torrens said. "They told us what's going to happen or what their thinking on this is."
And while he hasn't talked to landowners in the proposed project footprint, Torrens said he knows the company has talked to landowners to come to an understanding on using their property.
It's a process Byron City Administrator Mary Blair-Hoeft said she sees notices on solar projects every year due to the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency substation located in her town. During the Dodge County Wind project, Byron found itself in the center of the discussion for wind generators located miles away because those power generation locations would eventually be tied into the Byron substation.
"Anything that comes to the SMMPA station, we get notices on it," she said. "What I need to find out when is the SMMPA station full."
A lot of land
The project near Kasson, which would be working under the name of Byron Solar LLC, a subsidiary of EDF Renewables, would cover 1,801 acres in Canisteo and Mantorville townships in Dodge County. Another 53 acres would be needed in Mantorville Township and Olmsted County's Kalmar Township to run the high-voltage transmission lines a distance of about 3 miles.
According to documents filed with the MPUC on Monday, Byron Solar has lease agreements in place with landowners for the parcels on which the solar panels would be constructed and easements for the land occupied by the 150-foot-wide transmission right-of-way.
That same document notes that nearly all the land within the project area has been in use for agriculture production for decades.
It's something Torrens said he sees as a change that is likely to come as the state moves more towards its renewable energy goals, and renewable energy like solar starts replacing fossil fuels as part of our energy portfolio.
"Like a lot of things, if you can scatter this stuff around so you can utilize various areas, use land that’s not as fertile, we’d like that better," Torrens said. "But if it really helps with power generation we'll see more of it."
Torrens said he still believes there will be a need for baseline energy generation for those time "the sun isn't shining, and the wind isn't blowing."
Still, as the project moves forward, he's eager to sit in on the public hearings that will be required just so he can learn more about the project that will take up a chunk of his township, and the plans for even more solar energy down the road.
"Hopefully as they get further into their planning and staging, they’ll tell us more about it," Torrens said. "But, from what they were saying, we're not going to be able to stop it. It’s a matter of sitting back and watching it happen."