From crops to sunshine: Solar panels up and running
SLAYTON -- Residents of southwest Minnesota have another reason to be proud, as Slayton is now the home of the largest solar-electric generator in the state.
The solar panels, which produce two megawatts of electricity -- enough to power 250 homes -- are connected to the Xcel Energy distribution system and were turned on Jan 4.
More than 7,000 solar panels in 32 rows sit on private property on what used to be field ground and cover an area roughly equal to 7 1/2 football fields.
Electricity produced by the solar panels will be sold to Xcel Energy in a 20-year agreement, the terms of which have not been released to the public.
Xcel Energy is ranked by the Solar Electric Power Association as fifth among United States utilities for solar electric capacity. In 2011, Xcel Energy doubled its solar power capacity, adding more than 100 megawatts of solar energy to its nationwide system.
When Murray County was first approached about the project in 2011, a law change was necessary.
"The county had to go through an ordinance update because (solar power) wasn't an allowed use," said Joan Christoffels, Murray County Zoning Administrator.
Murray County commissioners hosted a public meeting in April 2011 to discuss the project. County ordinances were updated and construction begun in October 2012, Christoffels said.
Slayton City Clerk Josh Malchow said that while the project is not on city land -- and the city therefore not getting tax revenue from it -- Slayton will benefit from the project.
"We're glad they picked the Slayton area to put us on the map a bit," he said. "We're now the largest solar project in Minnesota."
Christoffels added that the project will positively impact the residents of Slayton because the power generated is eventually fed into the city.
Malchow also said the project is a bit of a trial run.
"It's an experiment basically to see whether solar power is as efficient as wind or some of the other natural energy sources," he said.
The project was constructed by Blattner Energy, Avon, which provides engineering, procurement and construction services to owners and developers of renewable energy across the United States.
Blattner Energy is a sister company to D.H. Blather & Sons Inc., one of the companies that helped James J. Hill's Great Northern Railroad in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Ecos Energy LLC, the project developer, is based in Minnesota and is a renewable energy development and services company specializing in providing development services for renewable energy projects throughout the U.S., including wind and solar farms.
Solar installation has increased dramatically in Minnesota and across the United States. In 2012, Minnesota more than doubled the number of kilowatts produced by solar panels compared to the year before.
Daily Globe Reporter Alyson Buschena may be reached at 376-7322.