Largest Military Base in Minnesota Going Solar with 10 MW Array

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The U.S. Army has been making headlines lately with its solar adoption, which just keeps on giving.

It’s not just happening in sun-drenched areas; Minnesota is also in on the action, with new installations getting bigger all the time. Duluth-based Minnesota Power, a division of ALLETE, Inc., (NYSE:ALE) and the Minnesota National Guard are planning to build a 10 MW utility-scale solar array at Camp Ripley, the largest military base in Minnesota. The project will be the largest solar installation on military property in the state and will produce more electricity than the base normally requires.

The utility will also identify ways to help Camp Ripley reduce its energy usage by 30% and install backup generation for energy security.

The project will showcase a clean energy partnership between an innovative public utility and the military. Both Minnesota Power and the Minnesota National Guard have renewables goals that the project will help them meet.

Minnesota Power must comply with a solar energy standard enacted in 2013 by the Minnesota Legislature. The law requires the company to procure 1.5% of non-exempt energy from solar resources in a manner consistent with Minnesota Power’s integrated resource planning — while providing competitive electric rates to customers. Camp Ripley, for its part, must meet a Department of Defense energy savings goal of 30% over a 2003 baseline.

“Completion of the Camp Ripley solar project will help Minnesota Power achieve about one-third of its requirement under the state’s new solar mandate,” said Al Rudeck, Vice President Strategy and Planning.  Camp Ripley will achieve an energy security priority by gaining the ability to function completely independent of the electric grid in emergency situations.

The solar farm and backup generation will be designed to let Camp Ripley use the energy produced during infrequent periods when the electric grid is down, providing enhanced energy security for the military site. During non-emergency operation, the energy will flow into Minnesota Power’s electric service territory, which encompasses 26,000 square miles in central and northern Minnesota.

The solar project, subject to regulatory approval, will cover nearly 100 acres of underused government property at the Camp with PV panels on racks. Projected to cost $25 million, the project is expected to be completed in the 2015-2016 time frame. Minnesota Power has been the energy provider to the 53,000-acre Camp Ripley training facility for decades.

“To provide cleaner energy forms is the mission, and both Minnesota Power and our National Guard are on the front lines,” said ALLETE Chairman, President and CEO Al Hodnik. “This project helps meet our goal of achieving the state’s solar mandate and it advances our company’s Energy Forward goal of providing a balanced mix of one-third renewable, one-third coal and one-third natural gas energy sources reliably and affordably.”

“I’m pleased to work in partnership with the National Guard, to answer the nation’s call to transform our energy landscape,” Hodnik added. “This solar project is good for the Little Falls area and Morrison County and it’s good for Minnesota.” Hodnik expects Minnesota Power to develop its solar energy portfolio just as it has expanded its Bison Wind Energy Center into the largest wind farm in North Dakota. The solar project will also bring employment and new business into the region, he said.

Minnesota National Guard Maj. Gen. Richard C. Nash said the Guard and Camp Ripley specifically, have long looked for ways to increase their environmental stewardship. “Today’s signing marks a milestone along our path to make that vision a reality,” Nash said. “The Minnesota National Guard is committed to working with local partners in the government and the private sector, like Minnesota Power, to assist us in our pursuit of sustainable infrastructure.”

Part of the agreement outlines how Minnesota Power will install reciprocating engines – either diesel or natural gas — at Camp Ripley that will serve a dual purpose. First, the engines will provide capacity and peaking energy to Minnesota Power, operated through remote dispatch during periods when energy market conditions call on it. Second, this “backup generation” could provide emergency generation to Camp Ripley.