LUVERNE — The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and Minnesota Department of Commerce were in Luverne last week to collect input on an 80-megawatt solar farm proposed to be constructed north of Magnolia.

The environmental assessment and scoping meeting was the first opportunity for the public to weigh in on the proposed Elk Creek Solar project. A public hearing and comment period will be conducted once the environmental assessment and report are completed. That hearing could be scheduled as early as May.

Minneapolis-based Geronimo Energy LLC is developing the project. When it first announced plans for Elk Creek Solar in 2018, the company proposed a 150- to 200-megawatt solar farm — the largest in Minnesota — to span up to 1,600 acres of land.

Jordan Burmeister, senior developer for Geronimo Energy, said the project was scaled back due to commercial interest for power.

“We continue to develop a second phase of the project, estimated up to 120 megawatts,” he said last week.

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The smaller-scaled project is now proposed to cover 976 acres in Vienna Township sections 27 and 35. At this point, Geronimo doesn’t own any of the land where the solar farm is proposed.

“The project will not purchase any land until the project is finalized and ready for construction,” said Burmeister. If Elk Creek Solar gets approval from the PUC, construction would be completed in 2021.

Burmeister said Vienna Township was identified by Geronimo for the solar farm because of its proximity to the electrical grid for interconnection. Other factors included topography of the land, solar resource, availability of contiguous land for expansion, power purchase interest and having a supportive local community.

“The Vienna Township area met all of those considerations, and as such, we began outreach to local landowners to inquire about their interest in hosting solar on their land,” Burmeister said.

The Elk Creek Solar project, classified as a large energy facility because its capacity will be greater than 50 megawatts, will be required to obtain a certificate of need and site permit from the PUC before it can be sited or constructed.

The project is estimated to create approximately 100 construction jobs and four full-time jobs once operational. It's anticipated to generate $4.5 million in new local tax revenue over 25 years ($180,000 annually).

The PUC will continue to accept comments on the Elk Creek Solar Project environmental assessment until 4:30 p.m. Jan. 28. Comments may be faxed to (651) 539-0109, emailed to bill.storm@state.mn.us, submitted online at mn.gov/energyfacilities/#comment, or mailed to Bill Storm, Environmental Review Manager, 85 Seventh Place E., Suite. 280, St. Paul 55101-2198.