WHAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT SOLAR ENERGY
1. Solar energy is the most abundant energy resource on earth – 173,000 terawatts of solar energy strikes the Earth continuously. That’s more than 10,000 times the world’s total energy use.
2. The first silicon solar cell, the precursor of all solar-powered devices, was built by Bell Laboratories in 1954.
3. In the first quarter of 2012, developers installed 85 percent more solar panels compared to the first quarter of last year. Total U.S. installations may reach 3,300 megawatts this year – putting the country on track to be the fourth largest solar market in the world.
4. The biggest hurdle to affordable solar energy remains the soft costs – like permitting, zoning, and hooking a solar system up to the power gird. On average local permitting and inspection processes add more than $2,500 to the total cost of a solar energy system.
5. In California’s Mojave Desert, the largest solar energy project in the world is currently under construction. The project relies on a technology known as solar thermal energy. Once the project is complete 350,000 mirrors will reflect light onto boilers. When the water boils, the steam turns a turbine, creating electricity. The project is expected to provide clean, renewable energy for 140,000 homes and is supported by an Energy Department loan guarantee.
To find out more, visit: www.energy.gov
Posted: Tuesday, November 26, 2013 8:00 pm
Updated: 8:33 pm, Tue Nov 26, 2013.
November 26, 2013
An ambitious solar-energy project could bring a trio of large solar energy farms to the St. Peter and Waseca area.
The project is part of a proposal submitted to Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission (PCU) in April. The farms would supply 100 additional megawatts of energy to Xcel Energy in an attempt to meet the company’s anticipated growth in demand, as identified in a 2010 energy-needs study.
The Edina-based company, Geronimo Energy, is one of five companies to respond to a request of proposals for additional energy resources.
It has submitted plans to build 31 solar-energy farms across 700 acres of land in 18 different counties on property adjacent to Xcel substations, according to PCU documents.
Local sites would be in rural Eagle Lake, rural St. Peter near Lake Emily and rural Waseca.
The array near Waseca would be the largest and be built on an 84-acre site, according to Geronimo’s proposal. St. Peter’s would be one of the smallest, built on an 18-acre parcel. The Eagle Lake site would be about 47 acres.
Other proposed sites include Zumbrota, Faribault and Dodge Center.
The initial proposal, submitted in April, came to the PUC just weeks before Gov. Mark Dayton signed legislation that made Minnesota the 17th state to pass a controversial solar energy mandate.
The mandate requires Minnesota’s major utility companies to generate 1.5 percent of their power using solar by 2020 and forces them to consider building large solar generators or arrays similar to those common in California.
Power companies have opposed the mandate and say solar’s cost can’t compete with low-cost wind and natural gas-fired generation.
But solar-energy proponents say it will bolster the solar power industry and help the state meet its renewable energy goals.
“The benefits of approving Minnesota’s first large-scale solar installation, meanwhile, are enormous,” wrote Kevin Reuther, legal director of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, in a brief to the PUC. “The solar bid helps to further Minnesota’s greenhouse gas reduction goals, it helps meet the state’s renewable and solar energy standards and it helps to spur new job and expertise in green energy technologies. It is in the public interest for the commission to approve Geronimo’s solar bid.”
The state’s largest solar power collection is currently located in Slayton, about 40 miles east of Pipestone. Each of the solar arrays proposed by Geronimo would be as big as or bigger than that one, completed last year.
“Geronimo’s 100 MW project is the largest installation of solar energy and distributed generation ever proposed in the state,” Geronimo Energy Vice President of Development Elizabeth Engelking told the PUC on Sept. 27. “The size of the project provides efficiencies and economies of scale, especially in equipment purchasing. It also appropriately balances the timing and logistics of constructing approximately 20 sites within the timeline necessary to complete all required regulatory approvals, qualify for the available federal investment tax credit and meet Xcel’s need for capacity prior to summer 2017.”
Geronimo told the PUC in its proposal it could start putting sites into service as early as 2014. As many as 500 workers would be needed to construct the arrays, but no price tag has been fixed to the project.
The Calpine Corp., which has a natural gas power plant in Mankato, has also submitted a proposal to the PUC for expanding the state’s energy resources.
The company proposes adding 345 megawatts of capacity to its existing facility.
Todd Thornton, vice president of commercial development for Calpine, told the PUC Sept. 27 he believed the companies bid would create cost-savings and would not require the company to buy additional land.
“The initial engineering, permitting and design effort that was undertaken during development of the existing plant provides Calpine with the opportunity to offer Minnesota ratepayers an energy efficient and environmentally responsible resource option at a uniquely low price,” he told the PUC. “Said differently, Calpine’s proposal is a low-cost alternative that takes advantage of the economies of scale associated with the investment that has already been made in the existing asset.”
Calpine said in its proposal the expanded plant could be operable by 2017.
The three other proposals also up the state’s natural gas capacity and Xcel, which has requested that the PUC put off selecting a proposal until further analysis of their needs is completed, has proposed building three new 215 MW combustion turbine gas plants.
Reach reporter Jessica Bies at 507-931-8568 or follow her on Twitter.com @sphjessicabies
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Tuesday, November 26, 2013 8:00 pm.
Updated: 8:33 pm.