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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Developer wants 5-acre solar panel field in Woodbury, Washington County...

Developer wants 5-acre solar panel field in Woodbury, similar to the one below...

Adam Mahler with Able Energy Co. of River Falls secures a panel on a 6 kW solar electric system Friday on a barn in Stillwater. (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)

A large-scale solar field -- maybe the first in the metro area -- could be selling solar power to Washington County residents as soon as next summer.

According to the developer, the 5-acre field would give people their first opportunity to buy solar power without buying solar panels. The solar garden of 4,000 panels would generate a maximum flow of 1 megawatt of electricity, enough to power 140 typical homes.

"We feel it's important to be close to the community that is buying the power," said Ben Ganje, a spokesman for Able Energy Co. of River Falls, which is planning up to four solar gardens.

Ganje said the company is negotiating to buy 5-acre sites in Woodbury and Lake Elmo and is considering additional sites in Afton and other locations.

The proposal marks the local launch of a new industry -- the generation of power by solar entrepreneurs.

Under a program authorized by the Legislature last year, independent businesses and groups may set up arrays of solar panels and then sell the power to local customers.

"It's another option for customers who may not want to participate in rooftop solar," said Lee Gabler, director of demand-side management and renewable programs for Xcel Energy.

Xcel predicts success for the new program based on its experience in Colorado. There, Xcel launched a similar program in 2006. In 2012 and 2013, Gabler said, 25 new solar gardens were approved, for a total output of 18 megawatts.

The largest of the Colorado solar gardens is twice the size of the fields Able is planning for Washington County, and the smallest are about half the size.

Besides the Minnesota solar garden program, Xcel has its own plans to build large-scale solar fields. The company is requesting bids for proposals to generate 150 solar megawatts -- 150 as much as each of the gardens planned for Washington County.

The 150 megawatts might come from one large field or several small ones, according to Xcel spokeswoman Patti Nystuen...



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