$250M solar power project gets OK from Minnesota regulators

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A $250 million solar power project that's expected to become the largest of its kind in Minnesota received approval Thursday from state regulators.

Edina-based Geronimo Energy plans to install solar panels at as many as 21 sites across the state as part of its Aurora Solar Project. Geronimo officials plan to spread out the sites to make sure cloudy weather doesn't affect the system.

The utility's project would increase Minnesota's solar output sevenfold. Plans call for its completion next year and for the power to be sold to Xcel Energy (NYSE: XEL).

"This project is unique because it's designed to be delivered directly into Xcel's distribution system, as opposed to a larger plant or even a wind project that might be located more remotely, which sends electricity over high voltage transmission lines," said Betsy Engelking, a Geronimo Energy vice president.

In March, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission determined that the Aurora Solar Project is an effective way for Xcel to meet peak electricity demand on hot summer days during which air conditioners are run. The project also will help Xcel meet the solar standard in Minnesota.

"They are looking for reliable supply for their peak days, which tend to be the hottest days of the summer," Engelking said. "Their hottest days of the summer also tend to be their sunniest days of the summer, so it aligns very, very nicely with Xcel's peak load."

The panels are set to be installed on sites near existing electric substations, eschewing costly transmission lines. Many of the sites are farmland.

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