An administrative law judge in Minnesota has ruled that a solar proposal is a better deal for Minnesotans than a competing natural gas proposal. The proposal by Geronimo Energy would include up to 100 megawatts solar arrays between 2 megawatts and 10 megawatts in size at up to 31 sites across Xcel Energy’s service territory in Minnesota. The StarTribune, which broke the story, said the proposal would cost about $250 million to implement—without state subsidies.
The Aurora Solar Project is competing against four other projects, mostly natural gas-fired power plant proposals, to meet Xcel and its customers’ future energy demands. The bids were requested after the state’s public utilities commission determined the Xcel needed 150 more megawatts of electricity (by any means necessary) by 2017 to meet its anticipated demand.
In a 50-page ruling Minnesota Administrative Law Judge Eric Lipman found that Geronimo’s proposal offered “the greatest value to Minnesota and Xcel’s ratepayers is drawn from selecting Geronimo’s solar energy proposal.” According to the St. Cloud Times Lipman also recommended Great River Energy’s proposal to sell Xcel Energy extra capacity credits if it needed it.
“We feel like the judge found that our proposal was effective in a number of ways,” Betsy Engelking, vice president of Geronimo Energy told the St. Cloud Times. “[It’s] the first time that solar’s gone head-to-head with gas facilities in this sort of a proposal and has received this sort of a recommendation,” she said.
Geronimo’s proposals offer flexibility because they could build the projects out as needed to meet Xcel’s apparent generation needs and Lipman cited the minimal impact to the environment, socioeconomic benefits—including 800 construction jobs and 30 permanent positions. It will also help Xcel meet the requirement that it sources 1.5 percent of its energy from solar power by 2020 under state law.
While Lipman’s findings on the proposals don’t constitute a final decision, they are an important step in moving forward on the projects in Minnesota and an important step for solar in general. Now the public utilities commission will take up the issue before making a final ruling, which is expected in March. If the solar project wins out Geronimo could start construction on projects shortly after and have the projects up and running by 2017.Tweet