April 13, 2017 08:43 PM
LITTLE FALLS, Minn. - Put 65 football fields worth of solar panels together, and you have the largest solar array on a National Guard base in the United States.
Minnesota can boast that with a new installation at Camp Ripley in Little Falls.
"It is a bright day for Minnesota," Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said at the ribbon cutting ceremony. "It is a real testament to the partnership between the Minnesota National Guard and Minnesota Power to move forward on clean, reliable and affordable energy."
The two organizations teamed up on the $23 million project.
"The Guard was looking for energy independence, they had plenty of acreage, we have the innovation and the skills to do it, we brought it together in a large-scale way here with solar," ALLETE CEO Al Hodnik said.
It spans about 65 acres and is made up of 116,000 individual solar panels. It can produce 10 megawatts of energy, which the company said is enough for almost 2,000 customers.
"Minnesota has the same capacity to generate solar energy as Houston, Texas," Lt. Gov. Smith pointed out.
It was almost complete last summer when a tornado hit Little Falls. Construction debris was picked up and thrown into the solar array, causing more than $2 million in damage. It was a setback, but Hodnik said the company was unfazed and forged ahead.
"They're made of high-strength glass," Hodnik said. "They're able to withstand a lot of weather conditions: wind, hail and things like that."
He said the panels are expected to last around 30 years and require minor annual maintenance. They also plan to plant native grasses and wildflowers among the 193 rows of panels to attract pollinators like bees and butterflies.
One reason it's situated on Camp Ripley's land is because creating a solar field requires a lot of acreage. Maj. Gen. Richard Nash, the Minnesota National Guard's Adjutant General, said he thinks the arrangement is "phenomenal."
"Not taking up agricultural ground, ground that can be used for development, but here on Camp Ripley in a space that we can use," Nash said.
Plus, in case of an emergency or an attack on the electrical grid, Camp Ripley could operate solely off of the solar farm's power.
"This is really a culmination of one of the many things that we're doing in sustainable infrastructure in order to operate as the Minnesota National Guard," Nash said.
He and Lt. Gov. Smith both said they'd like to see more projects like this one across the state.
"All of the National Guards across the country will look at and find out, how do you do that partnership with a willing resource provider like Minnesota Power," Nash said.
Hodnik said in broad terms, the National Guard and Minnesota Power provide similar services.
"The military protects our security, comfort and quality of life. And I like to think the energy industry does the same thing," Hodnik said. "When you don't have power and your lights on, you don't have security, comfort and quality of life either."
You can track how many megawatts the solar field is churning out in real time on this page.
Updated: April 13, 2017 08:43 PM
Created: April 13, 2017 06:23 PM
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