Sun power on tap: Aurora solar project including Atwater, Paynesville sites producing power
PAYNESVILLE — Crews were finishing up the final details and getting ready to demobilize equipment Wednesday afternoon at a 108-acre solar farm by Paynesville.
With about 48,600 solar photovoltaic panels tilted to the west, the Paynesville farm started producing 10 megawatts of direct current in June.
It was one of the last of 16 sites in the Aurora solar project to go online in what is currently the state's largest solar project that will produce a total of 150 MWdc of renewable energy that is being sold to Xcel Energy.
"Xcel Energy is pleased that the Aurora solar project is now delivering clean, renewable energy to our customers and it plays a big role in our goal to be 63 percent carbon free by 2030," said Chris Clark, president of Xcel Energy-Minnesota, in a news release.
Xcel Energy's ultimate goal is to have nearly 10 percent of its electricity generated from solar by 2030.
The Aurora project, which has a total of 500,000 solar panels tracking the sun at the 16 different sites, can power — on average — more than 17,000 customers from energy generated at 16 sites throughout Minnesota, according to Enel Green Power North America, the multinational energy corporation that invested $290 million in the Minnesota project.
The company announced Tuesday that all 16 sites spread across the state are done and producing power.
"We are proud to be a part of growing Minnesota's energy economy through maximizing the utility-scale distributed solar model," said Rafael Gonzalez, head of Enel Green Power North America.
By using multiple, small-scale solar sites, green power is made available to communities across the state, he said.
Acreage-wise, Paynesville is the largest site.
Located alongside state Highway 23 outside of Paynesville, the massive stretch of blue-toned solar panels perched on sturdy posts is hard to miss.
The site in Paynesville is also one of the top producers of the 16 sites in the project. Paynesville, along with the Aurora's solar farms in Albany and Waseca, will each produce 10 MWdc of solar power, according to Enel.
Another Aurora site is located on the east end of Atwater, in Kandiyohi County.
With 19,200 solar panels on the 37-acre parcel, the Atwater farm is one of the smallest sites in the project and will produce 4 MWdc of renewable energy.
Construction was completed in April in Atwater, and the site has been producing power since then, according to Enel.
Construction began last year and was originally slated to be completed last fall.
Only the site in Chisago was operational in 2016 when it went online in December. The Lawrence Creek site went online this March.
Weather conditions created challenges for construction "but we have worked diligently to complete the project as quickly and safely as possible," according to Enel.
The vegetation planted underneath the rows and rows of solar panels is a pollinator seed mix of perennials flowers and grasses.
The company worked with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to develop a "robust solar site vegetation plan that creates a biodiverse habitat for pollinator species while preserving the soil for future farming," according to Enel.