RICE — A major solar project in the works along U.S. Highway 10 would add to the region’s tax base and energy output, according to Benton County board documents.
Geronimo Energy has proposed an 800-acre solar farm in Langola Township, north of Rice. It would be among the biggest solar-energy producers in the state.
On Tuesday Benton County board members approved a letter to the state Public Utilities Commission supporting the project, said County Administrator Montgomery Headley.
It’s called the Regal Solar Project and would produce 100 megawatts of power, according to the Benton County board’s April 2 meeting packet.
That energy production equals “taking over 30,000 cars off the road every year,” according to an information sheet from Geronimo.
The Regal solar farm would be as productive as the state’s largest solar producer, North Star Solar in Chisago County, said Jack Kluempke, solar financing specialist in the Minnesota Commerce Department.
The new project proposed for Benton County could produce $220,000 in production taxes each year, including $176,000 for Benton County, according to the April board meeting packet.
‘Significant economic development’ project
Construction could start in spring 2020 and wrap up by the end of that year, according to the same documents. “Geronimo anticipates submitting the application to the state in May/June 2019.”
“We believe this project will bring significant economic development and will have a long-term financial benefit to the area,” the letter adopted Tuesday states. “Once constructed, the Regal Solar Project will provide a boost to the local economy including production tax payments to Benton County and Langola Township, to the local school districts through the Education Fund and full-time jobs.”
The Langola board of supervisors signed a similar letter dated April 21.
Benton County doesn’t have to take action on the proposal, Headley said. But the county might be involved in road access to the new facility.
Projects of this scale go through the state.
The Regal 100-megawatt project would increase the state’s solar capacity 11% over 2018 numbers, when the state’s solar capacity reached 882 megawatts, according to the Commerce Department.
Growth of solar capacity in Central Minnesota aligns with a state trend.
The capacity to produce electricity by solar grew 47% from 2017 to 2018, according to a Commerce Department analysis.
It’s too early to say how 2019 solar developments will compare to past years, Kluempke said.
Community solar gardens are tapering off as states compete with Minnesota for investor dollars, he said. And some new, utility-sponsored solar farms, like the Regal Solar Project, are still a few years out.
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